Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological condition in which the person suffers from repetitive involuntary movements or ‘tics’. These tics are most commonly twitches of parts of the body, or noises (vocalisations).
Uncontrolled swearing (also known as ‘coprolalia’) is uncommon, and occurs in around 10% of cases. Many cases of Tourette’s syndrome were previously thought to be psychiatric or behavioural conditions, however Tourette’s is now recognised as a neurological disorder and may affect up to 1% of the population.
Tourette’s syndrome is 3-4 times as common in males, and typically becomes apparent during the first 10 years of life. Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder is commonly seen in association with Tourette’s, as are other behavioural abnormalities. The symptoms of Tourette’s usually reach their worst during teenage years, and typically improve during adulthood. In some cases, the condition may not improve, or indeed become more severe, during adulthood.
The exact cause of Tourette’s syndrome is unclear, however it frequently runs in families.
HOW IS TOURETTE’S SYNDROME TREATED?
Many cases of Tourette’s do not require specific treatment as the symptoms may be mild or may be progressively improving.
Medications are often used, and may include risperidone and haloperidol. Pharmacological treatments do, however, have side effects, and are typically prescribed and monitored by a neurologist.
Some cases of Tourette’s are severe and unresponsive to medications. In those cases, surgery may be considered. Modern surgery for Tourette’s syndrome entails deep brain stimulation (DBS).
Relatively small numbers of Tourette’s patients have undergone surgery, however the results appear encouraging. Most patients derive a benefit from DBS, and in some cases the benefit is spectacular.