Tourette syndrome is a difficult condition that affects the brain and causes what are called tics. It is, as yet, an incurable condition, but several things are known about it. It appears to be inherited genetically, though the precise way the condition is inherited is not always clear. It also affects more males than females, and it is associated with a number of other conditions or complications.
Symptoms of Tourette syndrome are primarily physical or verbal tics. Physical tics are involuntary movements, though the person may feel the need to tic. These movements can vary and may include movements of the face, jaw, and the rest of the body and they may occur frequently. People may also have verbal tics where they either make sounds, or say things. Things said may be repetitious and they are sometimes inappropriate though it is a gross misrepresentation to suggest that all people with Tourette syndrome will utter swear words. Some people do, but this is often falsely represented in media presentation as the main symptom of Tourette’s.
People with this condition may have several other related conditions. Risk of attentional troubles is significantly increased. Some people are likely to suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and others may have conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Other depressive or anxiety disorders may occur with Tourette syndrome too.
For many people with Tourette’s, symptoms are worse when they are young, and get better as people reach adulthood. This isn’t always the case, and some people will continue to have significant tics. However, improvement in adulthood can mean that some are able to live fairly normal lives once reaching adulthood. Typically the condition doesn’t affect length of life, though the degree to which tics are present may affect quality of life.
Usually, Tourette syndrome gets diagnosed before children are 10, and the diagnostic standard is to look for tics present for at least a year. Once diagnosis occurs, methods of treatment can begin. These are complex and combine using medications to help reduce risk, while providing educational and emotional support to the person with the condition.
Some medications that may reduce tics include antipsychotics. Those with hyperactivity may benefit from meds to treat ADHD. If OCD is present, this can be treated with several antidepressants. These medications, particularly the antipsychotics, may have significant side effects, and treatment can be difficult.
In school, though the person with Tourette syndrome has average or better than average cognition, presence of tics may make learning, and especially writing, difficult. Pressure on the student is not encouraged, since anxiety often makes tics worse. Small classes and supportive learning environments that help address the needs of the student and protect him from social stigma are valuable. Many people with this condition also benefit from ongoing therapy to address the issues of being noticeably different than peers, and to deal with the daily aspects of the disease.