Playing ice hockey is Luke's favorite thing to do. But when Luke has a game someplace
new, he often has to deal with stares and weird looks from strangers because he sometimes
shouts unexpectedly or blinks his eyes hard. To people who don't know him, it looks
like he's in pain or needs help. These tics are
symptoms of Luke's Tourette syndrome.
What Is Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a disorder that affects the
body's brain and nervous system by causing tics — sudden, repetitive movements
or sounds that some people make, seemingly without realizing it. A person with Tourette
syndrome has mulitple motor tics and at least one vocal tic.
Tics are actually more common in teens than you might think. You may know someone
who has either a motor tic (sudden, uncontrollable movements like exaggerated
blinking of the eyes) or a vocal tic (sounds such as throat clearing, grunting,
Tourette syndrome is a genetic disorder, which means it's the result of a change
in genes that's either inherited (passed on from parent to child) or happens during
development in the womb. As with other genetic disorders, someone may have a tendency
to develop TS. But that doesn't mean the person will definitely get it.
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn't known, but
some research suggests that it happens when there's a problem with how nerves communicate
in certain areas of the brain. An upset in the balance of neurotransmitters (chemicals
in the brain that carry nerve signals from cell to cell) might play a role.
People with Tourette syndrome usually first notice symptoms while they're kids
or teens. TS affects people of all races and backgrounds, although more guys than
girls have the condition.
And, Tourette syndrome is not contagious. You can't catch it from someone who has
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
The main symptoms of Tourette syndrome are tics — multiple motor tics and
at least one vocal tic. Motor tics can be everything
from eye blinking or grimacing to head jerking or foot stomping. Some examples of
vocal tics are throat clearing, making clicking sounds, repeated sniffing, yelping,
or shouting. In rare cases, people with TS might have a tic that makes them harm themselves,
such as head banging.
At certain times, like when someone is under stress, the tics can become more severe,
happen more often, or last longer. Or, the type of tic may change.
Some people may be able to suppress their tics for
a short time. But tension builds, and it eventually has to be released as a tic. And
if a person is concentrating on controlling the tic, it may be hard to focus on anything
else. This can make it hard for teens with Tourette syndrome to have a conversation
or pay attention in class.
Tics should be checked out by a doctor. Some family doctors may refer a person
with Tourette symptoms to neurologist (a
doctor who specializes in problems with the nervous system). The neurologist may ask the person to keep track of the kinds
of tics involved and how often they happen.
For a diagnosis of TS, a person must have several different types of tics — specifically, multiple
motor tics and at least one vocal tic — for at least a year. They may happen
every day or from time to time throughout the year.
There isn't a specific test for Tourette syndrome.
Instead, the doctor looks at the family history, the medical history, and the person's
symptoms to make a diagnosis. Sometimes, imaging tests like magnetic resonance imaging
tests (MRIs), computerized tomography (CT) scans, electroencephalograms (EEGs), or
blood tests can rule out other conditions that might cause symptoms similar to TS.
Just as Tourette syndrome is different for every person, treatment can be different,
too. While there isn't a cure for Tourette syndrome, most tics don't get in the way
of day-to-day life. If they do, doctors may suggest
medicines to help control symptoms.
Tourette syndrome is not a psychological condition, but doctors sometimes refer
teens to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Seeing a therapist
won't stop their tics, but it can help to talk to someone
about their problems, cope with stress better, and learn relaxation techniques. A
therapist also can help them with any other problems,
like ADHD, OCD, and/or anxiety.
Dealing With Tourette Syndrome
Many people don't understand what Tourette syndrome is or what causes it, so they
might not know what to make of someone who has TS. And if people stare, it can feel
embarrassing or frustrating. People with TS might have to explain their condition
a lot or have to deal with people thinking they're strange.
Although it's not easy to have Tourette syndrome, there's good news — the
tics usually get milder or go away during adulthood. In the meantime, it can help to focus on something else.
Things that teens with Tourette syndrome can do include:
Get involved. Some people say that when they're focused on an
activity, their tics are milder and less frequent. Sports, exercise, or hobbies are
great ways to focus mental and physical energy. Some well-known athletes have Tourette
Lend a helping hand. Dealing with Tourette syndrome often makes
people more understanding of other people's feelings, especially other teens with
problems. Use that special sensitivity by volunteering.
Embrace creativity. Creative activities such as writing, painting,
or making music help focus the mind on other things.
Find support. The Tourette Syndrome Association sponsors support
groups with others who understand the challenges of Tourette syndrome.
Take control. People with Tourette syndrome can feel more in
control of their lives by researching, asking their doctors plenty of questions, and
taking an active role in their treatment.
Each person with Tourette syndrome will cope differently with its physical, emotional,
and social challenges. TS doesn't usually restrict activities, so people who have
it can enjoy themselves and pursue their dreams and goals just as their friends do.