Perhaps one of the most misunderstood neurological disorders is Tourette Syndrome, a condition that causes people to have “tics,” which are “involuntary, sudden and repeated twitches, sounds or movements,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Although we know a lot about Tourette Syndrome, we still aren’t sure exactly what causes it,” said David Shprecher, DO, a movement disorders neurologist with Banner Health in Sun City, AZ, and co-director of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital/Banner Sun Health Research Institute Tourette Association of America Center of Excellence. “There is considerable evidence that the brain circuits of an individual with Tourette’s are wired differently in a way that predisposes them to tics.”
Read these five facts to help you better understand Tourette Syndrome.
1. Prevalence of Tourette Syndrome
Tourette Syndrome by definition starts in childhood, usually between the ages of 5 to 10 years. Although it isn’t known exactly how many people have Tourette Syndrome, studies of children with diagnosed and undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome have estimated that 1 of every 162 children have the disorder.
“Tourette Syndrome is more commonly diagnosed in boys and in children with autistic spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome or other learning disabilities,” said Dr. Shprecher.
2. Types of Tics
There is only one type of Tourette Syndrome but there are two types of tics: motor or vocal. Examples of motor tics include repeated blinking or twitching, while vocal tics can present as involuntary speaking or grunting. It’s important to understand that these tics are involuntary; while a person with Tourette Syndrome may be able to hold back tics for a while, they will still come out eventually. “Though cursing tics are often portrayed in the media,” Dr. Shprecher noted, “most people with Tourette’s do not have them.”
3. How Tourette Syndrome is Diagnosed
To be considered Tourette Syndrome, you must have both motor and vocal tics that have been happening for at least one year, multiple times a day almost every day. If you’re experiencing vocal tics or motor tics, but not both, you may have a persistent or chronic tic disorder - a different diagnosis than Tourette Syndrome.
“Most people with Tourette Syndrome have one or more psychiatric conditions - the two most common, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) - along with the tic symptoms are referred to as Tourette Syndrome triad symptoms,” said Dr. Shprecher. “Tourette Syndrome seems to present differently in people who have one or more of the triad symptoms and can often be much more disabling in people with other, more severe mental health conditions."
4. Treatment of Tourette Syndrome
There is no cure for Tourette Syndrome. In recent years, behavioral intervention therapy options have been developed to help people reduce tics over time. “For more severe tics, medications are available, but they are not always effective or well tolerated,” said Dr. Shprecher. “In very severe cases, a neurosurgical procedure called deep brain stimulation can be helpful, but it is still considered experimental.”
According to Dr. Shprecher, the most important treatment for Tourette Syndrome is education and acceptance. “By learning to accept your condition, adapt to it, and encourage accommodation from others so you aren’t singled out for your tics, most people with Tourette Syndrome can live happy and productive lives.”
5. Could someone have Tourette Syndrome and I wouldn’t even know it?
Because the severity of tics can range from very noticeable to opaquer, it is possible for someone you know to have the syndrome without you even recognizing it. In fact, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who compiled the first English dictionary, was known to have Tourette Syndrome. Singer Billie Eilish recently confirmed she has Tourette Syndrome and actor Dan Aykroyd has said in media reports that he has the syndrome as well.
“Tourette Syndrome often gets a bad rap, but it’s completely possible to live a perfectly healthy and happy life with this condition,” said Dr. Shprecher.
To learn more about Tourette Syndrome or to be evaluated for the condition, schedule an appointment with a Banner Health neurologist.