Tourette’s Syndrome

Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological condition affecting the brain and nervous system (a neurological condition) that is characterised by involuntary, random sounds and movements, known as tics. It usually begins in childhood.

Tics can be:

  • Phonic (making sounds) – such as grunting, coughing or shouting out words.
  • Physical – such as jerking of the head or jumping up and down.
  • Simple – involving moving only one muscle or uttering a single sound.
  • Complex – involving a series of physical movements or speaking a long phrase

Most people diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome have a combination of physical and vocal tics, which can be both simple and complex.

The tics do not usually pose a serious threat to a person’s physical health – although physical tics, such as jerking of the head, can often be painful. Some people with Tourette’s syndrome only experience tics occasionally and do not require treatment. When the tics are more frequent, there are several medications that have proved reasonably effective in helping to control them.

Premonitory sensations

Before a tic, those with the condition will experience an unusual or uncomfortable feeling. These feelings are known as premonitory sensations and will continue until the tic has stopped.

Premonitory sensations can include:

  • a dry or sore throat
  • itchy joints
  • muscle tension
  • burning sensation in the eyes

Over 300,000 people in the UK have Tourette’s, and one in 100 school children are diagnosed between the ages of three and nine. In the majority of cases, Tourette’s runs in the family, and is also closely associated with ADHD and OCD.

Those with Tourette’s are likely to show signs of other conditions commonly associated with the syndrome, including:

  • Echolalia (repeating other’s words)
  • Echopraxia (repeating other’s actions)
  • Palilalia (constantly repeating a phrase)
  • Learning difficulties (part of the brain that children use to learn things through habit is the same part of the brain that is affected by Tourette’s syndrome. This disrupts the natural learning patterns of children, often resulting in slower progression and development.)
  • Behavioural problems (short temper, mood swings, and inappropriate behaviour towards others)

In order for Tourette’s syndrome to be correctly diagnosed, other conditions need to be dismissed including:

  • Autism (many of the symptoms of autism can be mistaken for Tourette’s syndrome suh as behavioural problems, learning difficulties, and problems with social interaction. Some autistic people also experience repetitive movement, which can be mistaken for tics.)
  • Dystonia (This condition causes unintentional contractions and muscle spasms, however brain functions such as language, intelligence, and memory remain unaffected).

Children and adults affected by Tourette’s Syndrome can sometimes experience associated problems, such as social isolation, embarrassment and low self-esteem. Counselling can help find coping mechanisms for the symptoms, and can work on deeper issues affecting self-confidence.

A type of psychotherapy known as behavioural therapy can also be effective for many people with Tourette’s syndrome.

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