Tourette’s syndrome is a functional impairment where the most common symptoms are different types of tics. Tics are recurring involuntary movements or sounds that come suddenly.
Tourette’s syndrome is often associated with other mental diagnoses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder may also have symptoms similar to Tourettes. ADHD and other forms of autism also occur in those suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. Dyslexia, depression and various types of anxiety are other diagnoses that are common to have at the same time.
What you know about Tourette’s syndrome is that it is due to imbalance in part of the brain’s signaling system. Research has shown, among other things, that the area of the brain that produces dopamine, one of the most important neurotransmitters in our central nervous system, has a different size and function in children with Tourettes. Tourettes are partly hereditary.
Symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome
Some typical symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome are:
- Involuntary muscle movements, such as flashes, grimaces on the face and/or twitching in the arms and legs
- Involuntary sounds and repetitions of words, so-called vocal tics
The symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome usually begin to appear around the age of seven, but they can begin to come both earlier and later. Muscle movements usually occur before the vocal tics. The symptoms may come and go and increase or decrease in strength during life. Stress and anxiety can cause the symptoms to increase in strength. It can be a vicious cycle where the anxiety about having the tics becomes a cause of the stress that triggers them.
Over time, some with Tourette’s syndrome may learn to periodically hold back their tics. However, it can lead to intensified tics when they arrive, for example when you come home after going to school or in the workplace without symptoms. There are also some who use methods to “redo” the tics for eg harklings and coughs.
One of the criteria for diagnosing Tourette’s syndrome is that the symptoms occur before the age of 18. It is important to get the diagnosis as early as possible to get the best treatment and avoid any misunderstandings due to the disease. Children with Tourettes need the right help early so that they can develop best in spite of the disease. When seeking care for Tourette’s syndrome, one is evaluated according to criteria that assess tics and its effect on life. Most often they are also examined for possible physical causes of the symptoms. If one is diagnosed then the need for treatment and support is evaluated.
Treatment of Tourette’s syndrome
In most cases, the tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome are chronic. It is therefore not possible to cure them completely. Instead, treatment is focused on reducing the negative effects of tics. Some measures may be to reduce stress, create an understanding of the disease in the environment, physical activity, psychotherapy and drugs. Some who are affected by Tourettes can do without treatment.
Understand the disease
It is important to inform the environment that you have the disease so that they can understand why in some cases you behave a little differently. People who hide their Tourettes may be misunderstood as defiant or restless. Awareness of the disease can make life easier and reduce the stress associated with tics.
Stressful periods in life can cause tics to increase in scope. When responding with stress to situations, symptoms often increase. Methods such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation can be ways to learn to respond less to stress and reduce tics.
Psychotherapy can be a way to change behaviors in Tourette syndrome. KBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be especially good for helping with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Also HRT (Habit-Reversal Training) and ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) are two types of psychotherapy that may be relevant. Treatment of Tourettes with HRT and ERP aims to create awareness of when tics are on the road and practice resisting them for as long as possible.
In severe cases of Tourette’s syndrome, the doctor may also prescribe medication to help with the symptoms. Often, it is then about so-called anti-tics medication that relieves tics. In other cases, other problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression may need to be treated with medication.
Living with Tourettes
Tourette syndrome usually causes the most trouble around starting school. Children with Tourettes can suffer from difficulties with reading and writing and lack of motor skills. Over time, those affected often learn to deal with their problems. Psychotherapy or medication can also help to alleviate various symptoms. People with Tourettes are often gifted and do well both privately and at work, provided the environment is conscious and understanding of the symptoms of the disease.