Diagnosing The Tourette Syndrome

A child or teenager blinks often. He jerks his head frequently. He sniffles every few seconds. One wonders if he is sick or nervous. Should the child's family be concerned about these symptoms? Maybe Doctor Tourette, after whom this disease is named, can give us some answers to the questions we have about these actions or vocalizations referred to as tics. He noticed them a century ago in France. They are still prevalent today.
Unlike the children’s communicable diseases such as mumps, measles and pinkeye, Tourette’s Disorder is common but not well understood. It was named after a French doctor who noticed particular types of tics in some of his child patients over a century ago.

Although this disorder, or syndrome, was earlier considered to be rather rare, it is now considered quite common among young children. The multi-faceted condition can include such symptoms as tics (which are involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or sounds), compulsive rituals or behaviors, obsessions, mood problems and attention problems. These symptoms only suggest Tourette’s Syndrome. There are other similar conditions with similar symptoms. It is very important to not credit all of the symptoms to Tourette’s since several other disorders tend to mimic the symptoms. These can range from infections, head trauma situations, cerebral palsy or even stimulating medications.

Since the Tourette disease shares some symptoms with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, it is necessary for a physician to make the diagnosis as to which sickness a child may have.

Most children have tics at times in their lives. Most of these are not serious nor do they require a physician’s care. If they last a long time, a doctor should be consulted to be sure that they are temporary and non-threatening. If the tics are present in both motor and audible states, they should be considered important enough for a doctor’s examination.

Some tics cause body movement; these are referred to as “motor” ticks. Other tics produce sounds and are called “vocal” or “phonic” tics. Tics may be either simple or complex. The simple tics involve one muscle group or one sound. Examples could include simple head jerking movements or blinking of the eye or facial expressions repeated. Examples of phonic tics could include sniffing, clearing of the throat or coughing. Complex tics involve more than one muscle group or repetition of words or phrases in such as way as to be very noticeable.

A few people have unobserved tics which accompany the Tourette disorder. These involve internal organs of the body, parts that others are not aware of any movement taking place.

The symptoms of this disease are not completely controllable by the victim. They may be able to control some of the tics for a short time. Still, the tics must be allowed to release after a while.

The Tourette Syndrome is suggested if a person has frequent or recurring multiple tics for over a year. Any shorter amount of time suggests that the person is merely having some problems with tics, but the condition will clear up on its own.

At the present time, there is no scientific test to determine that the symptoms are from the Tourette disease. Diagnosis is done largely through study of a patient’s history and from having test results for other maladies with similar symptoms. Obviously, there is need for considerable research on this disease. Presently, many of the diagnostic tools are less than perfect.
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