Tourette (too-RET) syndrome is a neurological disorder in which you display unusual movements or make sounds over which you may have little or no control (tics). For instance, you may repeatedly blink your eyes, shrug your shoulders or jerk your head. In some cases, you might blurt obscenities.
Signs and symptoms of Tourette syndrome usually begin in childhood, typically showing up between ages 7 and 10. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome.
Although there's no cure, you can live a normal life span with Tourette syndrome, and many people with Tourette don't need treatment when symptoms aren't troublesome. Children often outgrow Tourette syndrome after adolescence.
Tics — sudden, brief, intermittent movements or sounds — are the hallmark sign of Tourette syndrome. Symptoms range from mild to severe and debilitating.
Tics are classified as either:
Tics involving movement (motor tics) — often facial tics, such as blinking — usually begin before vocal tics do. But the spectrum of tics that people experience is diverse, and there's no typical case.
Tics can vary in type, frequency and severity over time. They may worsen during periods of stress and anxiety, fatigue, illness, or excitement. They can occur during sleep. You'll likely experience an urge, called a premonitory urge, before the onset of motor or vocal tics. A premonitory urge is an uncomfortable bodily sensation, such as an itch, a tingle or tension. Expression of the tic brings relief.
Different tics may develop over time. Tourette symptoms are usually at their worst during the teenage years and sometimes improve during the transition to adulthood.
With great effort, some people with Tourette syndrome can sometimes temporarily stop a tic or hold back tics until they find a place where it's less disruptive to express them.
When to see a doctor
Many children develop tics that last a few weeks or months and then go away on their own. But whenever a child shows unusual behavior, it's important to have a medical evaluation to identify the cause and rule out serious health problems.
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn't known, and there's no known way to prevent it. Tourette is a complex syndrome, likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Theories about the causes of Tourette include:
Having a family history of Tourette syndrome or other tic disorders may increase the risk of developing Tourette syndrome.
People with Tourette syndrome have a normal life span and often lead a healthy, active life. However, having Tourette syndrome may increase the risk of learning, behavioral and social challenges, which can mar self-image.
In addition, having Tourette syndrome means you're likely to have other related conditions, such as:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or pediatrician. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in conditions of the nervous system (neurologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important. For Tourette syndrome, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment anytime you don't understand something or need more information.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
There's no specific test that can diagnose Tourette syndrome. Instead, doctors must rely on the history of the person's symptoms to diagnose the disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) determines the criteria for a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM is used by mental health professionals to diagnose certain conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
The criteria to diagnose Tourette syndrome include:
Diagnosis of Tourette syndrome may be delayed because families and even doctors are sometimes unfamiliar with the symptoms or the symptoms may mimic other problems. Eye blinking may be initially associated with vision problems, for instance, while sniffing may be attributed to allergies.
Because tics and movement problems can be the result of other serious health conditions, your doctor may suggest having tests to rule out other problems. These tests include blood tests or neuroimaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatments and drugs
There's no cure for Tourette syndrome. Treatment is intended to help control tics that interfere with everyday activities and functioning. When tics aren't severe, treatment may be unnecessary.
Coping and support
Your self-esteem may suffer as a result of Tourette syndrome. You may be embarrassed about your tics. You may hesitate to engage in social activities, such as dating or going out in public. As a result, you're at increased risk of depression and substance abuse.
If you have Tourette syndrome, here are tips for coping with your disorder:
Children with Tourette syndrome
To help your child:
Last Updated: 2010-05-08
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