5 myths about Tourette Syndrome
Professional soccer player, Tim Howard, described Tourette Syndrome (TS) as a battle of the will. The neurological disorder leads people to make awkward gestures, like compulsive blinking, repeated shoulder shrugs and uncontrollable head jerks. In rare cases, a person with TS might unintentionally blurt out offensive words.
“It’s your willpower versus what your mind is telling your body to do,” said Howard, goalkeeper for the U.S. national soccer team, during a 60 Minutes interview. “And so, it’s about suppressing those physical movements, those vocalizations.”
TS is an often misunderstood and even misdiagnosed disease. Early symptoms typically show up in childhood, between the ages of 3 and 9. The disorder hits all ethnic groups, and males are affected about three to four times more often than females, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 200,000 Americans have the severest form of TS, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, but as many as one in 100 exhibit milder and less complex symptoms, such as motor or vocal tics. Although TS can be a chronic condition with lifetime symptoms, most people experience the worst tic symptoms in their early teens. Then, the symptoms improve in the late teens and into adulthood.
TS is frequently accompanied by other health problems, such as:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Dr. Sachin Kapur, medical director of the Movement Disorders Clinic at Advocate Christ Medical Center, says TS is difficult to diagnose because one patient’s symptoms can look completely different from the next. Then, there are the misconceptions that confuse patients about whether to seek care.
Here are the five biggest myths about Tourette Syndrome, according to Dr. Kapur:
1. All people with Tourette Syndrome swear uncontrollably. Only a small percentage of TS patients have vocal swearing, known as coprolalia.
2. People with TS are mentally challenged. The majority of TS patients are highly functional and quite intelligent.
3. TS is a horribly debilitating disease. Not so. Most patients suffer from a mild version of TS that is easily controlled with medication.
4. TS is a purely psychological disease. TS is a neurological disorder caused by inappropriate amounts of dopamine and other chemical neurotransmitters in the brain.
5. All TS patients have anger management issues. Some patients have behavioral issues, such as obsessions and compulsions or even hyperactivity. But anger, or angry outbursts, are not common with the disease.
Although there’s no cure for TS, many effective medications and behavioral therapies are available. Severely affected patients may require more aggressive therapy, such as deep brain stimulation. This is a surgical technique that is also being used for other neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and other forms of tremor.
Dr. Kapur predicts that, even though the prevalence of TS has remained steady, more affected people and physicians will start to learn about it and recognize the symptoms.
“Primary care physicians may be more likely to refer patients to neurologists, rather than just telling their patients they have a familial tremor or simple tic,” he says. “Patients who may never have known what was causing their abnormal movements may come to realize that it may be TS.”
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