Why Tourette Syndrome Is More Than Uncontrollable Cursing

October 9th 2015

Diana Crandall

Most people have heard of Tourette syndrome, a disorder that has an almost iconic stereotype of a person who lets curse words and middle fingers fly uncontrollably.

What many don’t understand is that Tourette syndrome is complex, and people who are diagnosed with it often lead healthy, long lives.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome, also known as Tourette’s, is a neurological disorder that begins in childhood. It is named after Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the French neurologist who first described the disorder in 1885. 

Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the French neurologist who first described Tourette syndrome.

The syndrome affects the nervous system, which means that symptoms of Tourette’s involve repetitive movements or sounds that are uncontrollable. These are called tics, and they vary in their frequency and complexity. 

Watch these children describe their tics:

Tics are usually classified as simple or complex. Simple tics involve a limited number of muscles, such as eye blinking or finger flexing. More complex, distinct tics may involve more than one muscle group. A complex tic could include touching other people or smelling objects.

Who is affected by Tourette's?

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 360 children ages six through 17 in the U.S. are diagnosed with Tourette’s; other studies using different methods of data collection estimate the rate of Tourette’s at 1 in 162 children.

Tourette’s affects people of all racial and ethnic groups, though it is more common amongst non-Hispanic, white people than Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black people. Males are three to five times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome. The CDC reports that among children diagnosed with Tourette's, 86 percent have been diagnosed with one or more mental, behavioral or developmental issue, as shown below.

CDC Screen Shot of Tourette Syndrome Data

How is Tourette's treated? 

Many people with Tourette's have simple tics that can be masked, suppressed or camouflaged and do not require any medication. There are medications available to suppress tics, including Neuroleptics. Unfortunately, there is no "fix-all" for people with Tourette syndrome, and no medication completely eliminates symptoms.

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