If you have ever had a class with someone who simply could not stop twitching or jerking in their seat, or maybe couldn’t resist the urge to make a noise at unpredictable times, there is a large possibility you were in the presence of someone suffering from Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome was discovered by Gilles de la Tourette in 1885, when he observed his key 9 patients exhibiting characteristics like involuntary movements, echolalia, echopraxia, coprolalia, and making strange
seemingly uncontrollable sounds (Lajonchere, Nortz, & Finger. 1996). He continued to study their actions, and the disorders he thought they might be associated with, and produced numerous articles describing each individual. As the scope of his research expanded to other patients, he continued to outline his findings and how the symptoms he was observing were a unique set and different from those of cholera. In 1884 Tourette wrote a 2-part article that gave his complete description of the disorder, causing it to bear his name.
Kinda cool, yeah?
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by consistent involuntary and uncontrollable movements and vocalizations called tics. These tics can be as subtle as abnormal blinking, and as active as jumping and kicking. Contrary to popular belief, only about 15% of individuals suffering from Tourette syndrome deal with coprolalia, which is involuntary saying curse words, obscene language, and ethnic slurs (Heward. 2013). For some, tics are preceded by a warning sensation like an itch on the palm of the hand, or a tingling sensation in the fingertips (Swain, J., & Leckman, J. 2005). Tourette syndrome usually appears some time before the age of 18, has an average onset between the ages 3 – 9, and occurs in all ethnic groups. However, males are 3 – 4 times more likely to be affected with the syndrome than females. For a majority of cases the motor (movement) tics occur between the ages of 3 – 8, and the vocal (noise) tics don’t surface until a few years down the line. There are currently no tangible methods or available tests for diagnosis, so simple observation making note of type, intensity, frequency, and duration is the only method practiced.
So, about these tics…
The severity ranges from mild, to moderate, to severe, and the types include facial grimacing, throat clearing, blinking, grunting, kicking, coughing, stretching of the hand, stretching of the arm, stretching of the leg, sniffing, coprolalia, erratic movement of the neck, jumping, and more. Each individual has their own respective combination of tics, so one type cannot be assigned to an individual without it first being observed. It should also be noted that for some individuals, the tics themselves are only a temporary experience during adolescence, but for those with the actual syndrome the tics are present through life and have a chance of only reducing in intensity or duration.
For now, the cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown. Neurosurgeons are now able to detail and study what is happening to the brain of individuals with the syndrome, but are still progressing towards pinpointing the actual cause. Research shows that it is in fact inherited and may be due to abnormalities in parts of the brain including but not limited to the cortex, basal ganglia, and frontal lobes (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2014). It is also hypothesized that it could be due to damage in the circuits that connect parts of the brain, or neurotransmitters that are responsible for allowing nerve cells to communicate. There is no one medicine that is able to treat all cases of Tourette syndrome or eliminate symptoms completely. Due to tics often times not causing impairment, medications are not sought after by a majority of people suffering from the disorder. Individuals with more severe cases seeking medicated help, do however have the option of taking effective drugs known as neuroleptics. While neuroleptics have many less-than-favorable side effects, they can be managed by a slow introduction of the drug into the body (Lajonchere, C., Nortz, M., & Finger, S.. 1996).
This Down Here, Is What I Read to Learn About That Up There
Felling, R., & Singer, H. (2011, August 31). The Journal of Neuroscience Society for Neuroscience. Retrieved from http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/35/12387.full
Heward, W. L. (2013). Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. In Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (10th ed., p. 203-210).
Lajonchere, C., Nortz, M., & Finger, S. (1996, June). Gilles de la Tourette and the discovery of Tourette syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8660160
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2014, April 16). Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tourette/detail_tourette.htm#3231_1
Swain, J., & Leckman, J. (2005, July). Gilles de la Tourette and the discovery of Tourette syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000195/