Neuropsychiatric diagnoses

Tourette syndrome and tics

Tourette syndrome and tics usually start around the age of seven and are due to imbalances in the brain. Getting a diagnosis can feel like a life sentence, especially for the parent of an affected child. But the fact is that most people recover or learn to manage the symptoms in the future.

What is Tourette syndrome?

Tourette syndrome belongs to the group of diagnoses called neuropsychiatric disabilities, in other words the brain does not work properly. In this case, the syndrome produces symptoms in the form of motor and verbal tics. Tics are reflex-like movements, such as blinking, shrugging the shoulders or touching objects. Sounds such as coughing, clearing one’s throat or whistling may be other examples.

Many people associate tics with blurting out swear words and inappropriate comments. This is called coprolalia, and far from everyone with Tourette syndrome has it.

Tics usually appear in childhood between five and seven years of age, but they do not necessarily mean that a child will develop Tourette syndrome. They may be transient and will not require treatment. In order to establish a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome, the tics must have occurred for at least one year and at least three months without a break. The disease mainly affects boys and is hereditary.

How does this affect a person’s life?

Tourette syndrome can be extra difficult for children who have just started school. In addition to tics, common problems are concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and dyslexia. The disease may vary widely, transitioning from difficult periods with tics to other times when they are barely noticeable. Stress usually triggers the symptoms.

For most people, the symptoms diminish or disappear in adulthood. If they do not, many can master their tics sufficiently that other people do not notice them, and then let them break out at home. Most people can live a satisfying life including a social life with the disease. An understanding environment is of great importance.

With Tourette syndrome, it is common to be impulsive or to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety or depression. The disease does not affect the person’s intelligence or talents. There have been discussions of whether there is a link between Tourette and musical talent, for example in Mozart’s case.

Should I seek help?

If you encounter a child who has been bothered by tics for a long time, you should seek help. It can be difficult to find out the source of the child’s behaviour on your own, and the earlier the child is diagnosed, the easier the disease will be to manage as they grow up. When they have information and more knowledge, other people realize that the person’s behaviours are not controlled by their own will.

Depending on the age of the child, you can contact the health centre, school health services, BUP or the child health centre. In order to establish a diagnosis, doctors must exclude other reasons for tics and establish that the person suffers from both motor and verbal tics.

What form does treatment take?

If a child’s tics are perceived as extremely disabling, professional help is available. In addition to additional support at school, medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help with Tourette syndrome. Relatives may also need support and education in order to support the child.