What is Tourette disorder (TD)?
Tourette disorder (TD), sometimes called Tourette syndrome (TS), is a neurological
disorder characterized by multiple repeated tics. Tics are abrupt, purposeless, and
involuntary vocal sounds or muscular jerks. Symptoms of TD usually begin between the
ages of 5 and 10 years, and usually begin with mild, simple tics involving the face,
head, or arms. With time, tics may happen more often and increase in variety. They
may also involve more body parts, such as the trunk or legs, and often become more
disruptive to activities of daily living (ADLs).
What causes Tourette disorder?
Tourette disorder is an autosomal dominant disorder. Autosomal means that both males
and females are affected, and dominant means that one copy of the gene is necessary
to have the condition. This means that a parent with TD or a parent who has the gene
for TD has a 50/50 chance, with each pregnancy, to pass the gene on. TD is associated
with a nongenetic cause in 10% to 15% of children. Complications of pregnancy, low
birth weight, head trauma, carbon monoxide poisoning, and encephalitis are thought
to be associated with the onset of nongenetic TD.
Dominant disorders exhibit something known as incomplete penetrance. This means that
not everyone with the gene will have symptoms of Tourette disorder. In other words,
if a parent passes the gene on to a child, the child may not have any symptoms of
the disorder. If a daughter inherits the gene, there is a 70% chance that she will
have at least one of the signs of TD. On the other hand, if a son inherits the gene,
there is a 99% chance that he will have at least one of the signs of TD.
Finally, dominant disorders can also show something known as variable expressivity.
This means that there are differences in the expression of the TD gene in different
people. For example, one person with TD may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, while
another has a chronic tic disorder, while another has full-blown TD. In addition,
there are differences in expressivity between males and females. Males are more likely
to have full-blown TD or chronic tics, while females are more likely to have obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD). This is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an unreasonable
thought, fear, or worry (obsession) that he or she tries to manage through a ritualized
activity (compulsion) to reduce the anxiety.
Who is affected by Tourette disorder?
A diagnosis of TD is generally made before the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.
In the majority of cases, a child is diagnosed around the age of 7. TD affects more
males than females.
What are the symptoms of Tourette disorder?
Tic behaviors seen in TD change over time, and vary in frequency and complexity. The
following are the most common tic behaviors associated with TD. However, each child
experiences symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Involuntary, purposeless, motor movements. These may involve different parts of the
body, such as the face, neck, shoulders, trunk, or hands:
Some of the more complex tic behaviors associated with TD may appear purposeful, and
may include the following:
In addition to some, or all, of the above symptoms, TD is also characterized by one
or more vocal tics (meaningless sound), in order for a diagnosis of TD to be made,
including the following:
Grunting or moaning sounds
Throat clearing, snorting, or coughing
Echoing sounds or phrases repeatedly
Many children and adolescents who have TD also have attention problems and some also
have academic difficulties. However, most have normal intelligence and do not usually
have primary learning disabilities.
The symptoms of TD may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always talk
with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is Tourette disorder diagnosed?
A pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or a qualified mental health professional usually
identifies TD in children and adolescents. A comprehensive evaluation of the child
or adolescent's psychological, social, and educational status is recommended, as well
as a thorough medical, developmental, and family assessment. A detailed history of
the child's behavior from parents and teachers, in addition to observations of the
child's behavior, contribute to making the diagnosis.
Treatment for Tourette disorder
Specific treatment for Tourette disorder will be determined by your child's healthcare
provider based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of disruption caused by tic behavior
Your child's tolerance for specific medicines or therapies
Expectations for the course of the disorder
Your opinion or preference
The effect of symptoms on the child's or adolescent's self-concept, family and peer
relationships, and classroom participation determines what needs are to be addressed
in treatment. In many cases, TD is not disabling. Development may proceed normally,
and there is no need for treatment. However, when tics interfere with functioning
or school performance, and/or if there are other disorders also present (such as OCD,
or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), some effective medicines are available.
Children with TD can generally function well at home and in a regular classroom. If
they have accompanying emotional or learning problems, they may need special classes,
psychotherapy, and/or medicine.
Prevention of Tourette disorder
The genetics behind Tourette disorder are complicated. For this reason, it is important
for individuals and families with Tourette disorder to have genetic counseling by
a geneticist (a healthcare provider with specialized training and certification in
clinical genetics) or a genetic counselor, once a diagnosis has been made in the family.