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Tourette Syndrome
by C.J. Humpherys

Chris Jackson, a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets is running down the court. All of a sudden his head jerks to one side and his arm goes into convulsions. His coach calls a time out so he can sit on the bench and wait for the violent twitches to stop. Chris Jackson has a disease called Tourette syndrome. He is one of many people who have acquired this disease, getting it when he was a young boy at the age of seven.

Tourette syndrome is a disorder of the central nervous system, and is characterized by involuntary utterances and body movements. It tends to run in families and it affects four times as many men as women. The disease was named after a French doctor named Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who identifies the disease in 1885. He described it as "the body being afflicted by convulsive movements of the hands and arms, shoulders, neck, and face, and results in contortions and extraordinary grimaces."

The causes of Tourette syndrome are still hypothetical. It is suspected that Tourette syndrome results from an abnormality in the neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells. The thing that is known about Tourette syndrome is that it is hereditary.

There is only one type of the disease, but it is possible for a victim of the disease to only experience involuntary utterances, or only involuntary body movements. Tourette syndrome can either be mild or more severe and progressive.

The symptoms of Tourette syndrome begin between the ages of 2 and 15, usually at age 7. In most cases, the first symptom is an involuntary blink of the eye. Most patients soon develop other tics (involuntary muscle twitches) which may affect the face, neck, shoulders, trunk or limbs. Patients can also begin to make uncontrollable sounds. They may bark, grunt, repeatedly clear their throats, or speak unintelligibly-- in many cases, shouting explicatives. Some patients will show short attention spans and are hyperactive. The number and severity of a patients symptoms tends to rise and fall.

Tourette syndrome is diagnosed by recognizing tiny, involuntary tics, such as eye blinking. A diagnosis can often times be difficult because it is not recognized the there is a wide range of associated emotional and mental disorders that can be merely a different presentation of the underlying Tourette syndrome gene, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

One of the complications of Tourette syndrome occurs in about 50 percent of cases, and that is when the patient makes involuntary noises as grunts, barking, and occasionally shouting explicatives. Although the disease is not psychological, some patients develop emotional problems resulting form the teasing and harassing by the victims peers.

There is no cure for Tourette syndrome, but some antipsychotic drugs such as Haloperdol may provide temporary relief from jerking and vocal outbursts. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the development of emotional problems.


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