Exploring Tourette Syndrome

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Tourette Syndrome can be defined as a neurological condition classed as neurodiversity.

Tourette Syndrome causes involuntary movements and vocalisations called tics.

Tics may occur anywhere on the body (e.g. head, neck, or back) or in the throat (e.g. coughing). Tics do not always involve the face and can also occur in the stomach, bladder, or bowel.

Tics may also involve making sudden sounds (e.g. sniffing, sneezing, or coughing).

Tourette Syndrome may be present from birth, but usually develops during the preschool years or during early puberty.

The severity of the symptoms may change over time, but there is no cure for this condition. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand Tourette Syndrome as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder or a behavioural problem because they know little about it. There have also been a lot of negative representations within the media.

For people with Tourette Syndrome, the motor and vocal tics are involuntary. They feel as if they are “obeying an internal command to do the movements.” The tics usually occur during episodes of stress. It is believed that a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia is involved with involuntary movements.

The tics are often preceded by urges to move and are usually brief, but may last for a few minutes. Some people with Tourette Syndrome may only experience a few tics a day. Other people experience a large number of tics each day. Tics typically occur when a person is stressed but may occur without warning.

Only 10% of the 300,000 or so people who have Tourette Syndrome in the UK have coprolalia, the technical term for swearing tics.

Some common symptoms of Tourette Syndrome

  • Physical tics
  • Motor tics
  • Vocal tics
  • Headaches
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irritable moods and behaviour
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Rapid thoughts

Some strengths of those who have Tourette Syndrome

  • Ability to face adversity head-on
  • Heightened empathy and compassion
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Ability to be hyper-aware of the world
  • Ability to overcome adversity
  • Ability to experience the world in a completely unique way
  • Ability to see the humour in everything

What causes Tourette Syndrome?

Experts haven’t found one clear cause of Tourette Syndrome, but there are many theories. One theory is that Tourette’s is caused by a problem with the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that helps control muscle movement.

Another theory states that Tourette’s is caused by problems in the brain stem, which controls some involuntary body functions such as heart rate and breathing.

The most widely accepted theory is that Tourette’s is linked to abnormal activity in the brain’s dopamine pathways. Interestingly this abnormal activity within the brain’s dopamine pathway is a common connection between several neurodiverse conditions like dyslexia.

Is there a cure for Tourette Syndrome?

There is no cure for Tourette Syndrome, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. Some of these include:

Behavioural therapy – this type of therapy helps people learn to manage their tics and manage the situations that may trigger them.

Medicines – these may also be used to treat co-occurring conditions such as ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Diet – some individuals have found their symptoms improve when they reduce the number of processed foods within their diet.

Ways to support individuals who experience Tourette Syndrome

  • Let them be themselves
  • Encourage their creativity
  • Understand their condition
  • Encourage socialising to prevent feelings of isolation
  • Be mindful of triggers
  • Educate yourself

Famous individuals who according to our internet research have a diagnosis or identify as having Tourette Syndrome

  • Seth Rogan – Actor and stand-up comedian
  • Dan Aykroyd – Actor
  • Ruth Ojadi – British TV personality
  • Michael Owen – Football star