Condition: Tourette’s Syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome is a condition that is characterised by repetitive involuntary movements and/or sounds called tics.

These tics serve no purpose and are typically difficult to suppress. Tics can be common during childhood, but people with Tourette’s syndrome have multiple tics that persist for more than one year.

Up to 1% of individuals may experience Tourette’s syndrome in their lifetime. It is more common in males and symptoms typically start around 6 years old.

Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds called by tics that last for more than one year resulting in difficulty carrying out daily activities. Examples of common tics include:

Motor tics

  • Blinking
  • Head turning or nodding
  • Eye rolling
  • Shoulder shrugging

Vocal tics

  • Grunting
  • Throat clearing
  • Swearing
  • Tongue clicking

Involuntary swearing is commonly associated with Tourette’s syndrome; however, it is only present in 10% of patients, meaning that its absence does not exclude diagnosis.

Tics are commonly made worse during periods of stress.

Other involuntary features may be seen in Tourette’s syndrome:

  • Copying other people’s words
  • Repeating one’s own words
  • Making obscene gestures
  • Difficulty concentrating

The cause of Tourette’s syndrome is not fully known. It is likely that there is a genetic component to the syndrome as it is more common in relatives of another individual who is affected by Tourette’s.

Some studies have also shown differences in a brain signalling molecule called dopamine in people with Tourette’s syndrome. The significance of these changes or how these changes come about is unknown.

Tourette’s syndrome is diagnosed from speaking to a patient to understand their symptoms in full, however other conditions may mimic its symptoms and it is important to rule these out with further tests if suspected.

Tourette’s Syndrome Treatment

A large proportion of treatment involves discussions with trained practitioners who can provide education and support to people with Tourette’s syndrome and their families.

Various psychological treatments can also improve symptoms for patients with Tourette’s including cognitive behavioural therapy, habit reversal training and exposure with response prevention therapy.

In addition, medication can sometimes help to reduce the frequency of tics. The most commonly prescribed medications are antipsychotics, such as haloperidol, risperidone and aripiprazole. Some patients with severe debilitating symptoms may benefit from specialist brain surgery.

Medicinal cannabis may also be considered when first line therapies have not achieved adequate symptom control.

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