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Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder in which you display unusual movements or sounds over which you may have little or no control (tics). For instance, you may repeatedly blink your eyes, shrug your shoulders or jerk your head. In rare cases, you might even blurt out obscenities. An estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of American children and adults have Tourette syndrome. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome. Although there's no cure, you can live a normal life span with Tourette syndrome, and many people with Tourette don't need treatment when symptoms aren't troublesome. Children often outgrow Tourette syndrome after adolescence.
Complications of Tourette Syndrome
Causes of Tourette Syndrome
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn't known, and there's no known way to prevent it. There is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Theories about the causes of Tourette include:
Signs & Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome
Tics are the hallmark sign of Tourette syndrome. Symptoms range from very mild to severe and debilitating. The first sign of Tourette is often a facial tic, such as eye blinking. But the spectrum of tics that people experience is amazingly diverse, and there's no typical case.
Tics involve movement (motor tics) and sound (vocal tics). They're classified in two ways:
Tics can vary in type, frequency and severity over time. They may worsen during periods of high stress and anxiety, fatigue, illness, recent head injury, or excitement. They can even occur during sleep. You may experience sensory symptoms before the onset of motor or vocal tics. This is called a premonitory urge. Different tics may develop over time. Tourette symptoms are most often at their worst during the teenage years and then sometimes get better during the transition to adulthood. With great effort and concentration, some people with Tourette syndrome can sometimes stop themselves from having these tics or hold back the tics until they find a place where it's less disruptive to express them. But most tics must be expressed eventually. In rare cases, people with Tourette syndrome may involuntarily shout obscenities or repeat the words of other people.
Diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome
There's no specific test that can diagnose Tourette syndrome. Instead, doctors must rely on the history of the person's symptoms to diagnose the disorder. To be diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, someone must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose certain conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
According to the DSM, the criteria to diagnose Tourette syndrome include:
Diagnosis of Tourette syndrome may be delayed because families and even doctors are sometimes unfamiliar with the symptoms, or the symptoms may mimic other problems. Eye blinking may be initially confused with vision problems, for instance, while sniffing may be attributed to allergies. Because tics and movement problems can be the result of other serious health conditions, your doctor may suggest having tests to rule out other problems. These tests include blood tests or neuroimaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatments of Tourette Syndrome
There's no cure for Tourette syndrome. Treatment of Tourette syndrome is intended to help control bothersome tics and to help cope with psychosocial aspects of the condition. When tics aren't severe, treatment may be unnecessary.
Treatment options include:
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