Tourette's syndrome (TS) 

A neurologist talks about Tourette's syndrome, which causes people to make a combination of involuntary movements and sounds. He offers advice on treatments and where to find support.

Learn more about Tourette's syndrome

Transcript of Tourette's syndrome (TS)

Hello, I'm Dr Jeremy Stern, consultant neurologist at St George's Hospital.

Tourette syndrome is a combination of involuntary movements

and involuntary noises, which we call tics,

tending to start in childhood

and tending to get better as people get older.

It's also associated with obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD,

and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.

Tourette syndrome is now known to be far more common than was once thought.

In fact it affects about one per cent of schoolchildren,

but there's a very wide range of severity,

so some will have a very mild condition and never have to see a doctor for it

and some will be more severe.

We still don't really know the cause of Tourette syndrome,

even after a lot of research for many years,

but we do know in most cases it runs in families,

so there are generally people on the mother's or father's side

of somebody with Tourette syndrome

who either have tics or OCD or ADHD or other features,

and only a minority of patients will come with Tourette syndrome

with no family history of any kind.

The way Tourette syndrome affects a person

depends entirely on how severe it is in that particular individual

and the features for them,

so for a lot of people tics may be the main problem

and will be noticeable to other people in public

and they may feel self-conscious about it.

Tics can sometimes be bad enough to get in the way of speaking

or moving around properly or writing, for instance.

Tics vary from very simple ones, like, for instance, blinking

or a twitch around the mouth or the neck,

and vocal tics may just be a throat-clear or a sniff or a cough.

They can also be far more complex, where people will shout out words,

and in about ten per cent of cases they will have involuntary swear words,

which is not as common as people think.

The motor tics can also be more complex,

for instance hopping or squatting or jumping when they walk.

The tics are not necessarily triggered by anything.

They come spontaneously

but they will vary according to the situation the person's in,

so they may be more apparent when the person is anxious or stressed.

The first line of treatment for people with Tourette syndrome

is really diagnosis,

so they know the condition they're trying to deal with themselves.

Some people have tics bad enough to need medication.

The largest group of drugs we use are the neuroleptic drugs,

and the effect tends to be a bit variable from patient to patient.

We also use psychological treatments

and particular forms of cognitive behavioural therapy,

which can also be very helpful to help individuals control their tics.

For people who have a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome

or who think they may have Tourette syndrome,

a very good source of support is the charity Tourettes Action,

and they also hold a list of specialists

who have a particular interest in Tourette syndrome

and who are experienced at diagnosing it and managing it.

With that information you could then visit your general practitioner

to arrange a specialist referral.

It has to be said it's not all doom and gloom with Tourette syndrome.

I said it's got a very wide range of severity

and I know people personally with Tourette syndrome

who have done every kind of job,

pilots, a surgeon, several millionaires,

so I think that any child with Tourette syndrome

can be reassured that their tics may well get better

and it shouldn't restrict them in life too much in most cases.

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