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Neurological Conditions

Tourette’s Syndrome

What is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary behaviours known as ‘tics’. Motor tics can include everything from eye blinking or grimacing to head jerking or foot stomping, while vocal tics may display as throat clearing, making clicking sounds, repeated sniffing, yelping, or shouting. In rare cases, people with Tourette syndrome might have a tic that makes them harm themselves, such as head banging. Prior to diagnosis of Tourette syndrome, both motor and phonic tics must be consistently present for a period of 12 months.

What causes tourette's syndrome

The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn’t known. It’s a complex disorder likely caused by a combination of inherited (genetic) and environmental factors. Chemicals in the brain that transmit nerve impulses (neurotransmitters), including but not limited to dopamine and serotonin.

Risk factors for Tourette syndrome include having a family history of Tourette syndrome or other tic disorders might increase the risk of developing Tourette syndrome. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome.

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How Tourette's syndrome Affects Children?

Children with Tourette’s syndrome often outgrow their tics by their late teens or early adult years — they happen less often and sometimes disappear altogether. ADHD symptoms often last into adulthood.

Medical problems associated?

Children with Tourette syndrome often lead healthy, active lives. However, Tourette syndrome frequently involves behavioural and social challenges that can harm your self-image.

Conditions often associated with Tourette syndrome include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Pain related to tics, especially headaches
  • Anger-management problems

Symptoms include rapid, repetitive and involuntary muscle movements and vocalisations called ‘tics’, which are classified as simple or complex. Simple tics involve sudden, brief movement within a limited number of muscle groups. These occur in a single and isolated fashion and are often repetitive. 

Complex tics involve distinct, co-ordinated patterns of movements which involve several muscle groups. These may include jumping, smelling objects or touching the nose.

Typically, tics increase as a result of tension or stress, and decrease with relaxation or concentration.

Prenatal screening and diagnosis?

As part of the diagnostic process for ADHD, the health care professional must determine whether there are any other conditions affecting the individual. Often, the symptoms of ADHD may overlap with other disorders. The challenge for the professional is to figure out whether a symptom belongs to ADHD, to a different disorder or to both disorders at the same time.

In the case of tics, the intermittent nature of the condition may make it difficult to identify in its early stages. However, over time, a pattern of motor tics and other behaviours will emerge. During the assessment process, it is important to determine the frequency of the symptoms and the degree to which the tics and other behaviours impair functioning. Patterns associated with the tics (for example, are they brought on or made worse by stress or tiredness) may also be key in recommending appropriate modifications or strategies to deal with them.

Getting help with Tourette's Syndrome

In many cases when a child has both ADHD and tics, the health care professional may elect to treat the ADHD first because primary treatment of ADHD may reduce stress, improve attention and sometimes reduce tics by enhancing the individual’s ability to suppress tics. Treatment options for ADHD include medication, skills training, counselling, behaviour therapy and school support. These interventions can help the patient control symptoms, cope with the disorder, improve overall psychological well-being and manage social relationships.

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