Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry


What is Tourette Syndrome?

Twitching and throat clearing are perfectly normal in most human beings. They are just some of the many involuntary gestures and movements that we associate with anxiety or stage fright. However, there are some people out there that don’t have it the same way. These movements are frequent to them and they can’t control it. This condition is called Tourette Syndrome.

First and foremost, what is Tourette syndrome?

Nicknamed as TS, it is a neurological disorder often represented by repetitive, commonly done involuntary gesture and vocalizations referred to as tics. This was first discovered by a French neurologist, Gilles de la Tourette, in 1885.

TS can be detected as early as childhood about 3 to 9 years of age and can experience the worst of the symptoms around their teen years. However, though a chronic condition, this can diminish overtime but not entirely disappear. The causes of TS is not exactly known and research is still ongoing in an attempt to explain why. However, there are some researches that suggest that it could be from abnormalities within the part of the brain such as the frontal lobes and cortex, the neurotransmitters found in the brain or the chemicals associated with it such as dopamine and norepinephrine.

There are also two types of tics, simple and complex.

Simple tics are often sudden and brief, and comes in repetitive movements. Common movements include eye blinking, facial grimacing, shrugging or head and/or shoulder jerking. When it comes to vocalizations, these are repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing and grunting.

However, when it comes to complex tics, it becomes more distinct and coordinated compared to the random ones projected by simple tics. Such movements would include grimacing, head twists and shoulder shrugs. Some tics may look like it is being done on purpose like sniffing, hopping, jumping, and bending. In terms of vocalizations, these would still include some of the common ones like throat-clearing, sniffing, grunting or barking.

However, there are also tics that are seen to be disabling and could cause harm to others and to oneself such as punching oneself in the face, repetition of others’ words or phrases (echolalia) or swearing or usage of socially inappropriate words (coprolalia).

For those who are wondering if tics could get worse if one experiences a certain high or low in emotions such as anxiety and excitement, it does. But sometimes, tics can worsen or be triggered through certain experiences or daily habits like wearing tight neck collars or hearing someone clear their throat. However, tics do diminish when one is engrossed in calming and focus-oriented activities.

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