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Tourette's syndrome (TS) treatment

Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder which usually starts in childhood, and causes a person with the condition to make involuntary sounds, speech and movements known as ‘tics’.

TS is a much misunderstood condition in society, where symptoms of TS manifesting in the form of repeated swearing or generally inappropriate comments, affect only a small amount of people with the disorder.

Although the tics and associated symptoms of TS can get better after living with the condition for several years, and can even disappear completely, it is believed that there are currently over 300,000 children and adults living with TS in the UK. If you are diagnosed with a chronic case of TS, then symptoms can last a lifetime, although the condition will likely peak in severity when you are in your teens and improve somewhat when entering adulthood.

While there is no cure for TS, treatment can help you to manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. If your tics are particularly severe to the extent that they are causing you significant frustration and stress, Priory’s nationwide network of highly experienced specialist psychiatrists and therapists can help to alleviate your symptoms of Tourette’s.

Different types of tics

If you have TS, it is more likely that tic-related symptoms will follow a pattern of sudden, brief or repetitive movements of certain muscle groups including rapid eye blinking or shoulder shrugging, alongside vocal tics such as excessively clearing your throat or sniffing.

More complex tics can include a mixture of movements, and can include words or phrases, while the most debilitating of tics including repeating the words and phrases of others or socially inappropriate words, known a ‘echolalia’ and ‘coprolalia’ respectively, are only apparent in 10 to 15 percent of people with the condition.

Treatment for TS  

While there is currently no cure for TS, some children and adults with tics can cope without medication or specific treatment to relieve symptoms. If your tics are frequent and severe in nature to the extent that they are affecting your day-to-day life or are causing you to experience associated social and emotional problems, then Priory’s therapeutic treatment programmes for TS can help.

Behavioural therapy and psychotherapy sessions will be provided by specially trained therapists or psychologists who are highly experienced at treating people with tics and other symptoms of TS. These methods can help to reduce the frequency and severity of your tics through controlling urges to tic and increasing your awareness of triggering situations.

Some of the behavioural therapy and psychotherapy techniques used at Priory include:

Cognitive behavioural interventions for tics (CBIT)

CBIT, including habit reversal training which involves understanding your feelings and emotions which lead to you experiencing tics, after which you will work with your therapist to determine other ways which you can reduce the urge to tic.

This may also involve learning how to voluntarily move before you believe a tic is about to occur, which can ultimately reduce symptoms by not allowing your body to fall into a pattern of involuntary movement.

Psychotherapy

It is possible to have TS with co-existing mental health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression or anxiety, and the aim of psychotherapy sessions is to help you to learn coping mechanisms for not only dealing with symptoms of TS, but also any associated social and emotional problems that can develop as a result of the condition.

This can include turning a negative outlook into a more positive one, focusing on proactive methods of improving your relationship with the condition, and working towards making you feel more hopeful about living with TS both now and in the future.   

Medication for TS

If you have been diagnosed with TS, and the tics and associated symptoms of the condition are negatively impacting on your everyday function and overall wellbeing, then medication can help to control or reduce the severity of your tics. While there is no one medication that will guarantee significant relief from symptoms, groups of drugs such as neuroleptics, which are traditionally used to treat psychotic and non-psychotic disorders, can prove to be effective.     

Certain medications can also be useful when treating related behavioural disorders that can occur if you have TS. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) due to their ability to regulate parts of the brain that are thought to be involved with anxiety, memory and sleep. 

Medications that may be used when receiving treatment for TS include:

  • Antidepressants - including Prozac and Sarafem, can help with symptoms of anxiety and OCD which may co-exist with TS
  • Anti-seizure medications - recent studies have indicated that some people with TS taking Topamax respond to the medication that is usually used to combat epilepsy
  • ADHD medications - certain stimulants such as Ritalin have been found to increase attention and concentration, and can help if you have ADHD as an associated condition
  • Adrenaline inhibitors - medications typically prescribed for controlling high blood pressure can help to control behavioural symptoms, impulses and aggression which can lead to tics

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Anupama Iyer (MD, MRCPsych) in August 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in August 2020. To view all Priory TS specialists, please click here.

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