Tourettes: What Are the Treatment Options?

tourettes

One of the most common yet misunderstood disorders around the world is Tourette’s syndrome, also known as ‘TS’. TS is a neurological disorder that can be identified through various symptoms, also known as tics. Tics can take relatively mild, uncomplicated forms or they can be severe.

Here’s how to identify the signs of Tourettes, as well as when and how to seek treatment.

What are tics?

Tics are categorised as repetitive, involuntary movements or vocalisations that usually appear during childhood, particularly between the ages of 5 and 9. Tics can sometimes improve with age or even disappear completely. Although there is no known cure for tics, the right treatment can help to keep them under control and reduce their frequency.

What form do ticks take?

Tics can manifest as vocialised or physical symptoms. Although they are not considered detrimental to health, some physical tics can be painful.

Symptoms of tics may include:

  • body jerking
  • blinking
  • eye rolling
  • jumping/twirling
  • grimacing
  • touching objects/other people

These symptoms vary from subtle to noticeable and can impact a person’s life considerably. Other signs of tics may include vocal symptoms, such as:

  • whistling
  • grunting/coughing/throat clearing
  • animal sounds
  • repeating sounds/words/phrases
  • saying random phrases/words
  • swearing

One common misconception about the disorder is that everyone with the disorder curses or swears, but this isn’t the case. In fact, only 10% of TS patients display this symptom. 

People with Tourettes, particularly children, are more susceptible to bullying due to their tics. Others may experience sudden outbursts of rage, as well as inappropriate or anti-social behaviour.

Can tics be controlled?

Some people can control their tics for a sustained period of time. Additionally, after some practice, controlling tics can get easier. However, constantly working at controlling the symptoms of Tourettes can be exhausting for the sufferer. Many people experience a burst of tics after a long period without symptoms. For reasons mostly unknown, Tourettes syndrome is more likely to affect boys than girls.

What are premonitory sensations?

A premonitory sensation is described as a strong urge before ticking. For people with Tourette’s, this experience is like that of needing to sneeze or itch.

There are various different examples of premonitory sensations, including:

  • a dry/sore throat before grunting
  • itchy muscles or joints before jerking
  • a burning sensation in the eyes before blinking

Evidently, with these symptoms, it becomes more difficult to contain tics or stop them completely. However, tics are easier to contain and less obvious when the individual is taking part in activities that involve a lot of concentration, such as playing an instrument, playing sports or reading.

Getting a Tourettes diagnosis

Once you are diagnosed with Tourettes, you will be better able to understand your symptoms and seek support and treatment. Finding out as much as you can about the condition will help both you and your loved ones to better understand its impact on your life.

There isn’t a particular test for TS. However, there are various tests and scans which may be able to help your doctor diagnose your condition by ruling out other causes, such as MRIs. If your doctor suspects you have Tourette’s, you will be referred to a neurologist. You are likely to be diagnosed with TS if you have experienced tics for a year or more.

Treatment options

For the most part, children who experience tics don’t need treatment, although it may be recommended in severe cases. If treatment is needed, it will be offered in the form of medication, behavioural therapy or both.

There are two types of behavioural therapy that have been shown to reduce tics. The first is Habit Reversal Training, which involves identifying tic triggers and trying to offset the urge with another activity. The second is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), which uses techniques to recreate the urge to tic, without the patient actually ticking.

Many people find that their tics are better controlled with medicines. Medication is typically recommended if tics are affecting everyday situations, such as school or work. Some of these drugs cause side effects, and they don’t work for everyone.

If you or someone you know is displaying Tourette’s symptoms, make an appointment to see your GP or ask to be referred to a consultant.

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