By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Tourette syndrome is an incurable neurological condition affecting the brain and nervous system. The condition causes involuntary physical movements or noises to be made which are known of as tics. Physical involuntary movements are referred to as motor tics, while involuntary utterances or noises are termed phonic tics.
Treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms of the condition and improving quality of life. In around two thirds of all children with Tourette syndrome, symptoms improve after about ten years after onset and medication or therapy may no longer be required to control symptoms.
In people with the transient form of the condition, symptoms may take only a few weeks or months to resolve. Individuals suffering from the chronic form of the condition may find that symptoms persist for years and even for the whole of their lifetime.
Tourette syndrome is a not a degenerative or progressive condition like Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease and Tourette sufferers do not experience major physical disability or significant effects on their general health. Tourette syndrome does not impact on normal life expectancy nor does it impair intelligence or cause mental retardation.
However, for some individuals, motor tics such as sudden jerking of the head may be painful and some children with the condition may experience learning difficulties. One of the major problems associated with Tourette is social embarrassment leading to isolation, low self esteem and social withdrawal.
Over time, many individuals learn to manage their tics with the help of behavioural therapy which can teach individuals how to control their urges that precede the tic or replace the sensations that cause the tic.
Tourette syndrome may be associated with other neurobehavioral or psychiatric disorders and examples include:
These associated conditions continue to affect a person even when the initial symptoms of Tourette syndrome have reduced or disappeared altogether.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc