Tourette Syndrome

What Is Tourette Syndrome?

When one thinks of Tourette Syndrome, the first thing that may come to mind is a swearing disease. Tics that involve swearing only occur in 10% of all individuals with Tourette Syndrome. 

​This is known as coprolalia. Common symptoms of Tourette Syndrome are rapid blinking, shoulder-shrugging, throat-clearing, head jerking, etc.

Tourette Syndrome runs in families. There is a 5 to 15% chance of having a child born with this condition if either a sibling, parent or relative has Tourette Syndrome. Studies have shown that this condition is carried on multiple genes instead of a single gene. Tourette Syndrome can also be caused by environmental factors, which start during pregnancy. Such as the mothers use of caffeine, alcohol, medication, and tobacco when pregnant. Other causes can be low birth weight, extreme amounts of vomiting, high levels of stress during the pregnancy, or during birth if the umbilical cord is wrapped around the neck of the baby. 

​Nearly 1 to 4% of the population has been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. Studies have shown that 24% of all children will develop a tic during their childhood, but will eventually disappear. Tourette Syndrome can effect all ethnic groups, but is less common for individuals with an African descent. Males are four times more likely to have Tourette then females. Tourette Syndrome is a life long condition for which there is no cure. The tics normally occur before age 18. Normally the tics will start when the child is 7-years-old (Tourette Canada, 2015).

Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada

Tourette Canada

Tourette Syndrome and Tics

There are two types of Tics. Simple tics only involve a small number of muscle groups. They are unexpected, brief and respective. Complex tics are clear, noticeable, and coordinated. They involve numerous muscle groups. There are also two types of common tics, body gestures and vocal tics. Common simple body gestures for a person with Tourette’s can be nose twitching, shoulder shrugging, head jerking, etc. Common complex tics for body gestures would be stepping in a certain pattern, bending or twisting, touching or smelling objects, etc.  Common simple vocal tics could be grunting, throat cleaning, barking, etc. Common complex vocal tics could be repeating one’s own words or phrases, copying others, etc. ​

​Stopping a tic from occurring is very difficult. If a person manages to stop the tic, the urge to do the tic later on will be stronger and they will do it more later. People with Tourette syndrome can go through emotional and physical stress. After they start ticcing they emotionally feel bad about the people around them as they might be bothered by the way they constantly tic.  They may also feel embarrassed as they weren’t able to control themselves. Physically, they may feel exhausted. As their body is trying to get rid of the itch, they are also trying to control themselves. Being in a stressful situation that is uncommon or new to the person can cause their tics to occur. Also, boredom such as being in a classroom can trigger the person’s tics. This can cause a person to Focus on getting rid of the tension, while ignoring the world around them. Over time tics will change for each person. (Mayo Clinic. November 21, 2015, Tourette syndrome)

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Context is everything. Dress me up and see. I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. I’ve got Tourette’s. My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks of empty breath and tone.

Jonathan Lethem