Tourette’s syndrome is an illness of the nervous system in which parts of the body move or twitch without control. In these movements, called tics, a part of the body moves repeatedly, quickly, suddenly, and uncontrollably. Tics can occur in any body part (face, hands, or legs). People can voluntarily stop them for brief periods. Some people also make abnormal sounds called vocal tics. Rarely, they will curse or say bad things to other people. As with body tics, people cannot control what they say. Sometimes, tics occur often, are severe, and can affect a person’s life.
Children and adults can have the syndrome, but it usually starts between the ages of 5 and 15. Many tics may go away as a child gets older.
The cause is unknown, but it may be inherited with other nervous system problems.
Symptoms are usually mild and hardly noticeable but can be severe. Symptoms often come and go and may go away for a long time. Sometimes old tics go away and new tics appear. Symptoms include barking, behavior problems, blinking, cursing, grunting, head nodding or bobbing, imitating actions or words of others, licking or smacking the lips, shoulder shrugging, sniffing, snorting, spitting, and yelping.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. The health care provider will ask a child to sit very still to see whether a tic appears. A pediatric neurologist may confirm the illness. A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in nervous system problems. The neurologist may want electroencephalography (EEG), a test that measures brain waves. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head may also be done to rule out other disorders that can cause abnormal body movements.
Children may be disruptive in school and have behavior problems. They may see a psychiatrist or psychologist (specialists in behavior problems). Tourette’s syndrome is associated with a variety of behavioral symptoms, most often attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Medicines called neuroleptics can help control tics. Medicine is usually not needed for mild tics. They may be prescribed separately or with other medicines to prevent their side effects.
The whole family may also go for counseling to help a child and family cope with the disorder.
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