Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome, or TS, was first discovered in 1885 by a French neurologist named Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette. TS is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations. These movements are called tics, and the early symptoms are almost always noticed in childhood between the ages of seven and ten.

TS affects males three to four times more often than females. It is estimated that 200,000 Americans have the most severe form of TS and nearly one in every 100 people have mild symptoms of TS, such as chronic motor or vocal tics. TS can be a chronic condition with symptoms lasting a lifetime, but most people with TS will experience their worst symptoms in their early teen years and improvement in their adult years.

Causes of Tourette Syndrome

The cause of TS is unknown; however, there is research being conducted as to what may cause the syndrome. Current research has suggested that the cause points to abnormalities in certain brain regions, particularly basal ganglia, frontal lobes and cortex. The cause may involve the circuits that interconnect these regions and the neurotransmitters which are responsible for communication among nerve cells. Many people with TS experience additional neurobehavioral problems which include obsessive-compulsive symptoms, hyperactivity, impulsivity and problems with reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition, evidence from twin and family studies suggest that TS is an inherited disorder.

Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome

Symptoms of TS are either classified as simple or complex.

Simple tics include:

  • Movements that are sudden, brief and repetitive
  • Movements that involve a limited number of muscle groups
  • Eye blinking or other vision irregularities
  • Facial grimacing
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Head or shoulder jerking
  • Throat clearing or sniffing

Complex tics include:

  • Distinct, coordinated patterns of movements
  • Involves several muscle groups
  • They usually include two or more of the simple tics
  • They may look purposeful
  • Uttering coprolalia
  • May result in self-harm


Doctors will diagnose TS in someone after verifying that the patient has had both motor and vocal tics for a minimum of a year. If the patient has other neurological conditions, this will also help doctors diagnose TS. There are no blood tests that will diagnose TS, but neuroimaging studies, such as a MRI and CT scan will help to diagnose TS.

Treatment of Tourette Syndrome

There is no cure for TS, but many patients find that they do not need medication because their tic symptoms do not often cause impairment. However, there are medications for those with severe TS or whose symptoms interfere with the ability to function.

Neuroleptics are the most common medications for tic suppression and some are more effective than others. Medication will vary from patient to patient, as there isn’t one particular medication that will equally suppress symptoms. Psychotherapy may also be helpful. Psychological problems do not cause TS but such problems may result from TS. Psychotherapy can help people better cope with the disorder and deal with the secondary social and emotional problems that sometimes occur. More recently, specific behavioral treatments that include awareness training and competing response training, such as voluntarily moving in response to a premonitory urge, have shown to be effective.

Review Sources

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – Provides information on Tourette syndrome.

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