Dealing With Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome gained attention across the country this year when American Idol contestant James Durbin openly shared his struggles with the disorder.

Durbin was voted off the show and the public chronicle of Tourette Syndrome went with him, but approximately 100,000 Americans continue to live with Tourette Syndrome. May 15 through June 15 marks National Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month.

The Center for Disease Control cites three per every 1,000 children ages six to 17 have been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome is characterized by motor or vocal tics, most often beginning in the head and neck area. Motor tics could include head jerking, shrugging shoulders, or eye blinking. Vocal tics include throat clearing, tongue clicking, or yelling a word or phrase.

Motor and vocal tics are either simple or complex. Simple tics involve one part of the body or an isolated tic. Complex tics involve multiple actions or sounds and can have a pattern to them.
Tourette Syndrome is often associated with coprolalia, a vocal tic that makes people involuntarily shout out inappropriate or curse words. Approximately 15 percent of those with the disorder have this form of tic.

Studies show a genetic component to Tourette Syndrome, with clusters common in families. It is three to four more times likely to occur in males than in females.

No blood test, X-ray, or scan will produce a diagnosis. Diagnosis is based on physician observation and analysis of a patient's history with criteria including tics for a period of one year, no more than a three-month period with an absence of tics, and onset before 18 years of age.

Physicians rule out tics due to medication or other known disorders, such as Huntington's Disease or seizures before concluding Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette Syndrome is often comorbid to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Obsessive Complusive Disorder (OCD).

All tics are involuntary, which is important to remember when engaging with a person with this disorder. Telling them to stop or asking them to concentrate on the tics will not eliminate them.

Though there is no cure, medication or behavioral therapy may be used to manage the disorder.