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What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is an inherited, neurological condition, the key features of which are tics - involuntary sounds and movements.

TS is a complex condition and covers a wide spectrum of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. 85% of the TS population will also experience co-occurring features and conditions such as ADHD, OCD and Anxiety.  

Typically the onset of TS occurrs in early childhood (around 6 years) and is more common in boys. 

Destroying the myths about TS

One of the most common beliefs is that all people with TS swear uncontrollably. However, only 10 per cent of people with TS have a swearing tic, which is clinically called Coprolalia. Although symptoms are diverse, there are common motor and vocal tics ranging from simple to complex. See our symptoms page for more information.

Although for many people, TS has a minimum impact on their quality of life; for others whose symptoms may be more significant, the effects of the condition can reach far and wide:

  • Physically - tics can cause damage to joints and general wear and tear on soft tissues
  • Educationally - TS can be a barrier to learning although it does not affect a person's IQ.
  • Economically - TS can be a barrier to employment
  • Socially - TS can lead to ridicule, bullying and social exclusion

Who has TS?

Because many people with mild TS are not affected to the extent that the condition has a significant impact on their quality of life, not everybody with TS will be diagnosed as they have no need to access treatment. This makes it difficult to know for certain how many people are living with the condition. However, it is estimated that TS affects one schoolchild in every hundred and more than 300,000 children and adults in the UK live with the condition.

TS is a neurological condition. It also has a genetic link, so there will probably be someone in your wider family who also has TS, although they may have a mild form of the condition and might not have realised they have it, especially if they had the condition in childhood but not today.

TS typically starts in childhood around the age of 6 to 7 years and is more common in boys.  For about half of children with TS the condition will continue into adulthood. The other 50 per cent will see a reduction in the symptoms of their TS by the end of their teenage years.

BMJ Learning podcast on Tourette Syndrome

Listen to a BMJ Learning podcast with TA Chief Executive, Suzanne Dobson, on the subject of Tourette Syndrome.

Pionnering Neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks, who made a significant contribution to awareness and research into TS, talks about Tourette Syndrome in this three part film featuring Shane Fistell.  This portrayal provides a sensitive and insightful perspective - a welcome and more representational alternative to the often simplistic stereotypical media depiction of TS, which has been responsible for much misunderstanding around the condition.

"People need to know that TS is involuntary. We don't need pity, but some will always need help, support and understanding"

 
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