Tourette Syndrome

Facial tics, frequent blinking, head jerks, uncontrollable vocal sounds, possibly including inappropriate words or phrases, are the characteristics of a neurological disorder called Tourette syndrome or Gilles Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome was named for Gilles de la Tourette, a French neurologist who first described the condition in 1885. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, with most cases classified as mild.

Most individuals with Tourette syndrome are males with onset of symptoms between two and fourteen years of age. In approximately 10% of the cases there is a family history of the disorder. Tourette syndrome appears to represent a communication problem within the brain, primarily involving the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. The exact genetic cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown. It is believed to be inherited in some families as an autosomal dominant trait, a 50% chance of being passed from generation to generation that varies in its level of expression.

Determining the genetics of Tourette syndrome will benefit affected individuals as well as provide recurrence risk information for family members. Research is focusing on the genetics, on the development of new therapies, and on the role of the environment in this disorder.

Most individuals with Tourette syndrome require no medication on a regular basis; however, medication can be useful in alleviating symptoms as needed. There is no cure for this condition. Although it is considered a chronic condition, it is not degenerative and does not result in a shortened life span. Interestingly, for many individuals the condition can improve with age and symptoms subside with relaxation and lowered stress.

Many support groups exist throughout the country to provide encouragement and information for patients and families. Affected individuals or families are encouraged to seek out such support.