Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological condition (a condition that affects the nervous system) affecting around 1% of UK school children. It causes both physical and verbal tics, which are involuntary repetitive movements or sounds.
Tourette’s syndrome is named after the French doctor, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who was the first person to describe the condition and its symptoms.
The symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome can range from mild to severe.
How common is Tourette’s syndrome?
It is difficult to know exactly how many people are affected by Tourette’s syndrome because people with the mildest form often disguise their symptoms from others. A recent estimate is that one in every 100 people is affected by the condition.
It is primarily a childhood disease, and boys are affected more than girls.
Most people with Tourette’s will begin to have physical tics at the age of about six or seven and phonic (vocal) tics at around 11.
The cause is unknown, but research suggests that the condition is caused by problems with a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia.
The outlook for Tourette’s syndrome is generally good. The symptoms usually get worse as a child reaches their teenage years but improve as they progress into adulthood.
About a third of adults who have a history of Tourette’s syndrome will remain free of symptoms, and another third will only have mild symptoms that do not seriously affect their daily life.
There is no cure for Tourette’s syndrome. There is a range of different medications that can help to improve the symptoms.
Tourette’s syndrome and swearing
Most people associate Tourette’s syndrome with shouting swear words and obscenities. However, coprolalia (the involuntary use of inappropriate or obscene words and phrases) is uncommon. Only an estimated 10% of people with Tourette's have this particular symptom.
Around 90% of children with Tourette’s syndrome develop a related neurological condition. The two most common conditions are:
• attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and
• obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).