Tourette's Syndrome | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

Tourette's Syndrome

Overview and Facts about Tourette's Syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes a person to experience involuntary movements known as tics. These tics occur repeatedly and without warning and may include excessive blinking or yelling out strange sounds.

Tourette’s syndrome typically begins to show itself in childhood, and because there is no cure, it is a lifelong disease. Overall, about 200,000 people in the United States have a severe form of Tourette’s syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome

Tics are the most common symptom of Tourette’s syndrome. These can be mild (simple tics) or severe (complex tics) and affect the motor or vocal functions. Motor tics include:

  • Blinking or darting the eyes
  • Jerking the head
  • Twitching the nose
  • Shrugging the shoulders
  • Moving the mouth
  • Stepping a certain way
  • Making obscene gestures
  • Hopping
  • Twisting or bending

Common vocal tics include:

  • Coughing or clearing the throat
  • Grunting or barking
  • Repeating words
  • Using obscene words

Tests and Diagnosis of Tourette's Syndrome

A diagnosis for Tourette’s syndrome is confirmed by seeing a specialist at a neurology practice that specializes in movement disorders. Because there is no specific test to diagnose Tourette’s, the doctor will ask questions about your symptoms in order to make a diagnosis. Some of the criteria for diagnosis include:

  • Having tics before age 18
  • Having tics for at least a year
  • Having both motor and vocal tics
  • Having tics that change location, severity, or frequency over time
  • Not taking medications that could be causing symptoms

Treatment and Care for Tourette's Syndrome

If you receive a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome, you may not need treatment if your tics aren’t severe. Otherwise, your doctor may recommend the following medications to help relieve the severity of your tics:

  • Dopamine-blocking medications, such as pimozide, risperidone, haloperidol, or fluphenazine
  • Botox injections to paralyze the affected muscles
  • ADHD medications, such as methylphenidate or dextroamphetamine
  • Central adrenergic inhibitors, which are typically used for high blood pressure

There are also a few therapies you can try, including:

  • Deep brain stimulation, which provides an electrical shock to the parts of the brain responsible for movement
  • Behavior therapy to help you identify triggers for tics.

Causes and Risk Factors of Tourette's Syndrome

Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes Tourette’s syndrome, but they think it could be related to a defect in certain regions of the brain. Specific brain regions may have trouble communicating with each other, which could be the cause of the symptoms.

However, doctors do know the risk factors for Tourette’s. These include:

  • Having a family history of the disease
  • Being male, as men are three to four times more likely to get Tourette’s than women