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Tourette’s Syndrome

While I was working at my local pharmacy a customer came in to collect their prescription and I noticed they were making abnormal physical movements; jerking their head up and down and they also spoke very loudly. They seemed unable to control such random movements.

Having witnessed such symptoms I decided to research into what the person could be suffering from. I discovered Tourette’s syndrome, which seemed to match the symptoms I had observed. It is a neurological condition; affecting the nervous system and brain, and it is commonly characterised by involuntary noises and movements called tics.

This condition normally starts in childhood and continues into adult life. Some children will develop tics, but they will grow out of them after several months- transient tics. Hence, to be classified as Tourette’s syndrome, these tics must have been present at least a year. Examples of vocal tics are grunting, coughing or shouting words, and physical movements include the jerking of the head or jumping up and down. Such tics can also be categorized as simple- small movements or uttering a single sound, or complex- making a series of movements or speaking a long phrase.

Before experiencing a tic, most people have unusual and uncomfortable feelings before so- premonitory sensations. These sensations are relieved after a tic. Tics will often follow a pattern and can be worsened by factors such as stress, anxiety and tiredness. Conversely, doing an enjoyable activity will reduce tics.

What are the causes of Tourette’s syndrome?

Diagram to show the area of the brain which causes Tourette's syndrome
Diagram to show the area of the brain which causes Tourette’s syndrome


The actual cause of this condition remains unknown, although it is believed to be linked to problems in the basal ganglia; an area of the brain. This is a group of specialised brain cells inside the brain that aid the regulation of the body’s movements. Tics are therefore the result of a temporary problem in this area which disrupts the decision-making process. A tic is effectively an unconscious urge to perform an action that the actual conscious mind regards as unwanted. What causes this to happen is still unknown, though dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain which can have powerful affects and so could be responsible.  



How can it be treated?

Fortunately there are treatments for Tourette’s syndrome and these may be classified as treatments without medication (behavioural therapy for example), medication (muscle relaxants, dopamine antagonists) and surgery (only in severe cases and so is extremely rare; it is a last resort).

This condition is also associated with Obsessive Compulsive disorder, ADHD and learning difficulties which are all psychological and behavioural problems which affect children in particular. Fortunately, this syndrome does not commonly affect a person’s intelligence.

To find out more about Tourette’s syndrome go to http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/conditions/adhd/a5227/tourettes-syndrome/.