Tourette's disorder causes a person to experience involuntary tics, which are defined as sudden, motor movements or vocalizations that are repetitive and may involve only certain muscle groups. Tourette's generally begins in childhood and may be substantially under control by the teen years, but it is possible for the disorder to continue to adulthood. Even children with mild cases of Tourette's may experience problems with low self-esteem or learning disabilities, so a loving and supportive family environment is strongly encouraged.
Symptoms of Tourette's Disorder
Tourette's disorder is best recognized by a person's inability to control tics. Tics may include rapid toe-tapping, abdominal tensing, eye blinking, throat clearing or the uncontrollable repetition of certain words. Repeating spoken words may be limited to words which are only spoken by someone else, repeating one's own spoken words, repeating words after they have been read, or the spontaneous repetition of words that may be socially unacceptable, such as swear words or phrases which are taboo. While many people are most familiar with the latter form of Tourette's disorder, only about 10% of children and adults affected by this syndrome are susceptible to shouting obscenities. Not all children or adults who experience tics classify as sufferers of this disorder. The following may be signs of Tourette's disorder:
- Slight twitching of the eyes, jerking of the neck or any other movement or sound that seems to come and go in a series
- Sudden bursts of sound or movement lasting from seconds to several minutes
- Periods of time where tics are not experienced, followed by a sudden occurrence of a new or old tic
Causes of Tourette's Disorder
While the exact cause of Tourette's disorder is unknown, research suggests that a genetic component may be involved. Many people with children who are experiencing symptoms may realize after consultation that other family members have shown signs of this condition. The exact type of genetic influence has not been identified, but evidence points to a specific gene or gene mix that may be passed down through the family tree. Other things that may potentially lead to Tourette's are the following:
- Exposure, during pregnancy or infancy, to toxins found in medications, cleaning supplies and some foods
- Insufficient oxygen to the blood supply during pregnancy or birth
- Low birth weight
- Born with an enlarged section of the brain or any brain damage
Diagnosing Tourette's Disorder
There is no specific test or medical evaluation that can prove a child or adult has Tourette's disorder, however, diagnosis can be made based upon family history and evidence of signs and symptoms. Due to the nature of this disorder, symptoms can also be involuntarily suppressed, such as when visiting the doctor's office for a diagnosis, or during times of significant concentration. If you are seeking consultation for the first time, it may be helpful to bring along video evidence of the behavior in question. Often, other mental disorders will be present alongside Tourette's. The doctor may check for signs of ADHD, OCD, depression or other problems with social anxiety. Brain and blood tests may be conducted to rule out alternate conditions.
Treatment for Tourette's Disorder
There is currently no cure for Tourette's disorder. Treatment is usually focused on management and coping with the effects of the syndrome. Education and emotional support is the best way to help someone who shows signs of Tourette's. If the disorder is making a significantly negative impact on family, home, school or work life, or it's accompanied by other mental conditions, consideration of certain medications or other types of counseling may be beneficial.