Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive movements and sounds. These movements and sounds are referred to as tics.
What is a tic?
As stated above, a tic is any repetitive motion or sounds. Quite frequently a tic appears to be purposeful to an onlooker. In reality, it is quite unpurposeful and it is not uncommon for the child to be completely unaware that they are doing it. When we think of tics, we may think of strange head, facial, or jerky shoulder movements.
However, tics are often much simpler than that. Transient tics are actually quite common in children and include such things as twirling hair, chewing on clothes, and foot tapping. Other motor tics include touching objects or people, twirling around, jumping, hopping, skipping, stretching, blinking, opening mouth, and many other movements. What differentiates Tourettes from common transient tics is the presence of vocal tics and the duration of tics. Vocal tics can include grunting, gurgling, whistling, throat clearing, and even coughing. Incidentally, parents often dismiss coughing and throat clearing tics as the common cold or allergies.
What causes Tourette Syndrome?
The exact cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown. However, researchers believe there may be abnormalities of the brain or the brain’s neurotransmitters. There is a hereditary component to Tourettes as well. Researchers have not pinpointed the exact mechanism for this, but they do know there are strong family tendencies with Tourettes.
Can tics be controlled?
No, tic cannot be controlled. Children may be able to suppress tics for short periods of time, and sometimes can alter a tic to be less noticeable, but this is extremely difficult and may cause the symptoms to be exacerbated later. An easy comparison is to itching or sneezing. One can ignore these sensations but only for a limited period of time before the urge is to difficult to resist or as in sneezing spontaneously occurs.
What treatment is available?
Unless symptoms of Tourette Syndrome are disruptive to a child’s life no treatment is necessary or recommended. There are medications available to treat Tourettes including Clonidine, Risperdol, and Haldol. Some of these medications have heavy side effects so you will want to discuss with your doctor the risk/benefits of using these medications. Experimental treatments such as the nicotine patch have also been shown to be helpful in reducing the number of tics.
Can children outgrow Tourette Syndrome?
Yes, a large number of children will see an improvement in symptoms or a complete disappearance of tics upon reaching adulthood.
What should I do if I suspect my child has Tourettes?
Call your doctor to schedule an appointment. There can be other causes for tics so your child should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out any other possibilities. If your doctor is familiar with Tourette Syndrome, he may make the diagnosis himself, but it is likely he will refer you to a neurologist or psychiatrist to make the diagnosis.