Living with Tourette Syndrome – Treatments, Symptoms & More

Professional Basketball Player Adam Kemp on the symptoms and challenges of living with tourette syndrome
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Tourette Syndrome, also known as Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome, has been a part of my life for the last 20+ years. I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when I was about 6 years old, and I have dealt with consistent motor tics ever since.

Although Tourette Syndrome is a part of my life and a part of who I am, I have not allowed it to define who I am and what I do with my life. I’ll be honest, living with Tourette Syndrome is not easy. There are days when I simply do not want to leave my house or even my room because of my tics.

However, I have found many ways to help manage my tics, and I believe a lot of the natural Tourette Syndrome treatment options I use on myself can be helpful for others.

If you are looking for treatment options for Tourette Syndrome, I hope the home remedies for Tourette’s in this article can provide you some relief.

If you are a family member or friend of someone who has Tourette’s and are looking for information about Tourette syndrome and trying to learn how you can help them, I hope my article provides some additional insight for you.

Living with Tourette Syndrome is challenging in many ways, but with the support of family and friends, and a lot of research and self-experimentation, I have found ways to live an incredibly enjoyable life, and I know others with Tourette’s can as well!

What is Tourette Syndrome?

So, let’s start at the beginning. What is Tourette Syndrome?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,

“Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.”

Tourette syndrome was first diagnosed in 1885 by Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette and is currently suspected to affect about 1% of the overall population throughout the world (Robertson, 2008, pp. 461). Although vocal tics are the most well-known form of Tourette’s that most people know about, there are multiple different representations of Tourette Syndrome in display and severity.

People with Tourette syndrome can have tics that range from mild involuntary contractions of muscles to full-blown involuntary yelling of profanities or other words.

Personally, I suffer from mild to severe motor tics, which seem to alter themselves depending on the day, month, or year.

Those who suffer from physical motor tics are often characterized by rapid eye blinking, distinct jerking or twisting of the head or neck, facial grimacing, and shoulder shrugging.

My tics generally occur in my neck or face, although I also can have dramatic eye blinking and restless legs.

More dramatic examples of motor tics can be touching certain objects, jumping, restless leg twitching, or moving the entire body.

Severe forms can be far more debilitating, and in the worst cases, motor tics can become harmful to the individual with Tourette Syndrome, such as punching or scratching oneself.

Vocal tics are generally what people are more aware of when thinking about Tourette Syndrome since those suffering from them have no way of hiding their disorder.

Mild forms of vocal tics can be as simple as “throat-clearing, sniffing/snorting, grunting, or barking,” while advanced vocal tics will involve words or specific phrases.

The most dramatic and disabling motor tics involve the use of profanities or inappropriate phrases. Those who have ever encountered somebody who is suffering from severe vocal tics will likely remember them, as their utterance of the word, sound or phrase is constant and entirely without regard.

However, only 10 to 15% of all people with Tourette Syndrome have this form of tics (NINDS 2012).

When is Tourette Syndrome Usually Diagnosed?

Tourette Syndrome is usually noticeable by childhood, with an average early inception of 3 to 9 years old.  There is a significant gap in the prevalence of Tourette Syndrome in males and females, with males being impacted by the disorder between 3 and 4 times more often (NINDS 2012).

Such as with myself, most cases of TS become worst during the early teenage years.  Even though Tourette’s is often a chronic lifetime disorder, improvement in most mild cases begins to happen during late the teen period and early adulthood.

Also, TS may completely alter its representation in an individual.

Certain tics may come and go, which I experienced first-hand.  My earlier years with TS were characterized by uncontrollable eye twitching and twitching legs while attempting to sleep.  As years progressed the eye twitches subsided, becoming replaced by neck-jerking and jaw-stretching.

Furthermore, TS has been shown to affect individuals differently based on ethnicity.

“TS does seem to be substantially rarer in African-American people and has been reported only very rarely in sub-Saharan black African people” (Robertson, 2008, pp. 461).

The link between ethnicity and TS has not been proven or shown; therefore it is currently not possible to directly relate these findings.

The prevalence of individuals with TS in schools certainly varies due to region, as the disease itself is not “common.”  A 1998 study entitled The prevalence of Tourette syndrome in a mainstream school population estimated that for students aged 13 to 14, “299 per 10,000 pupils” were affected by TS (Traverse, 1998, pp. 847).

This is notable since this estimation shows a much higher prevalence of TS once proper questioning is utilized, potentially realizing that TS is more common than previously considered.

Even though it may be more common, it is also most likely very mild in these individuals since it had not been worthy of a diagnosis by a general health care observance.

What Causes Tourette Syndrome?

the neurological and genetic causes of tourette syndrome

Although there are evolving theories, the exact cause of Tourette Syndrome is currently unknown.

However, the connection of the basal ganglia along with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are strongly considered to be the cause (NINDS 2012).

According to Recent Advances in Tourette Syndrome Research,

“recent anatomical and neuroimaging studies have provided evidence for abnormal basal ganglia and dopaminergic function in TS” (Albin and Mink, 2006).

The “basal ganglia” are a group of nuclei residing in an individual’s brain; connected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and brainstem, and are strongly associated with the production of voluntary motor movements, routine and behavioral habits, eye movements, and emotions (Stocco et al, 2010).

According to The Prevalence and Epidemiology of Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome,

“TS was thought to be a rare and, according to some, a psychogenically mediated disorder” (Robertson, 2008).

Meaning, Tourette’s was not passed from generation to generation, yet developed in the sole individual. However, recent studies have altered this theory.

Twin and family studies have begun to suggest that tics are inherited, due to prevalence in previous generations.

It is noteworthy that other studies also suggest that tics are not based on a singular gene or gene sequence, developing due to an array of possibilities, including multiple genes and environmental factors (NINDS).

For those who have had a family or personal history with Tourette Syndrome, it is important to understand that those in future generations may not develop full-blown tics. Considering the exact relationship of genealogy and Tourette Syndrome is not fully understood, Tourette Syndrome may appear in a much different form.

This could range from far milder to much worse, depending on other conditions and impacts of the situation.

In an additional study utilizing 35 special education and 35 regular classroom students from one school district, the genetic potential was also investigated.

“For three randomly selected students with definite tics, direct examinations of first-degree relatives revealed the presence of tics in all families” (Kurlan et al, 1994).

Although this is an extremely small sample size, the randomness of the testing certainly alludes to a connection between family history and future prevalence of Tourette Syndrome.

I am confident that one day a precise cause of Tourette Syndrome will be known and understood, but currently, there are only theories based on certain evidence.

Living With Tourette’s – Common Issues for People with Tourette Syndrome

For those living with Tourette Syndrome, like myself, there are often many accompanying psychological or physiological issues along with the tics.

Fortunately, although tics are often chronic throughout an individual’s life, they do not have a lasting impact on the individual’s life expectancy, and individuals with Tourette’s do not have any known connection to shorter life spans.

However, for people who have Tourette Syndrome, tics are often accompanied by Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

In the study, Tourette’s Syndrome in a Special Education Population, 11 of the 70 students assessed were determined to have Tourette’s.  Out of these 11, about one-half of the subjects with tics have evidence of obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCB) or an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Kurlan et al 1994).

Furthermore, depression, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and mood swings are prevalent in many people who have Tourette Syndrome, which causes more issues throughout the lifespan (NINDS).

These issues are consistent with Tourette Syndrome due to their connection with brain neurotransmitters, and they may be worsened due to social stigmas as well.

Tourette Syndrome and Social Interactions

Another strong issue with those suffering from Tourette Syndrome is their social and emotional well-being, namely peer interactions. I personally experienced many of these issues while growing up, and I am happy to answer any questions you have on this subject if you would like to contact me.

A study produced in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry observed that when compared with a control group,

“children with TS only were not significantly different from unaffected controls on most measures of externalizing behaviors and social adaptation but did exhibit more internalizing symptoms” (Carter et al, 2000).

This is most likely since the tics suffered by children can cause them to feel self-conscious or different from their peers, especially when faced with ridicule or bullying due to their abnormality. Although it does not change the child’s ability to socially interact, they begin to internalize the perception that they are different or strange compared to others.

Furthermore, the study also noted that those with both ADHD and TS suffered from far more

“externalizing and internalizing behavior problems and poorer social adaptation” than children in the control or TS only group (Carter et al, 2000).

This shows that the additional ADHD has a much more significant impact on children with Tourette Syndrome than Tourette Syndrome alone.

How to Treat Tourette Syndrome

different options for treating tourette syndrome

Although a “cure” for Tourette’s has not been identified yet, various treatments have been developed and utilized to help subdue tics associated with Tourette Syndrome.

A primary point of emphasis for treating Tourette Syndrome is that treatment should be “symptom targeted” (Robertson, 2008).

For example, mild tics can often be treated through psycho-education and reassurance for the patient and the family” (Robertson, 2008).

Psycho-education involves attempting to ingrain an understanding of the illness to the affected individual so that they can better understand how to deal with what is going on.  More comprehensive psych-education approaches better utilize the patient’s strengths and abilities to reinforce control, encompassing a more long-term solution.

After I first was diagnosed with Tourette SYndrome, the first neurologist I visited immediately began working on this psycho-education with me and helping me understand what my tics are, and how I should react to them.

For those with more advanced symptoms, habit-reversal, self-modeling, and other Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention techniques have been proven to be more effective than most other psychological treatments.

One of the most utilized treatments, habit reversal training, is essentially the concept of replacing an urge to express a tic with a different response, one which is more comfortable to the individual.

The reason for this is that when experiencing tics, individuals often time will feel the involuntary urge within themselves, yet they do not understand how to control it.

Habit reversal training aims to develop a sense of control for the individual, so their tics are not unleashed in a distracting manner, allowing them to better fit in social situations.

In one small-scale study entitled A School-Based Intervention Designed To Reduce the Frequency of Tics in Children with Tourette’s Syndrome, four school-age students underwent treatments involving habit reversal and self-modeling.  Out of the four students assessed, three of them showed substantial decreases in their tics, which were maintained during a 5- to 10-week follow-up (Clarke et al, 2001).

Along with this, the fourth student showed a mild decrease in tics.

From 2004 to 2007 a more extensive study was conducted, entitled Behavior Therapy for Children with Tourette Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The study concluded that over 50 percent of the children who received the behavior therapy treatment significantly improved their ability to subdue tics, compared to less than 20 percent who improved due to a differing controlled treatment (Piacentini et al, 2010).

If behavioral treatment alone is not successful, those with moderate to severe tics also may utilize various medicines.

Although not full-proof, research has indicated that clonidine and guanfacine can help suppress or lessen the prevalence of tics. These medicines are regularly used to treat high blood pressure and ADHD.

Individuals with moderate to severe Tourette Syndrome generally do not benefit significantly from the medicine alone, yet make much more significant strides by involving behavioral therapy as well. For the most severe and disruptive TS sufferers, deep brain stimulation and botulinum toxin have been identified as tactics to subdue the tics (Robertson, 2008).

Along with these treatment options for Tourette Syndrome, there are additional treatment options for Tourette Syndrome that I have utilized. Here are a few of my personal favorite ways to reduce tics:

Magnesium & Tourette Syndrome

Taking a magnesium supplement has been one of the most successful treatment options for Tourette Syndrome that I have tried. My first experience with magnesium for reducing tics was when I used Utzy Naturals magnesium powder. I originally took the supplement to help with cramping and hydration after basketball practices, but I noticed that after taking it my tics became noticeably more controlled.

After that, I did some research on magnesium supplements for Tourette Syndrome, and I learned that magnesium and magnesium deficiency plays an integral role in tics and Tourette Syndrome (Grimaldi, 2002).

For example, a study conducted on children ages 7-14 with Tourette Syndrome produced significant beneficial effects on symptoms of Tourette Syndrome with a supplement containing magnesium and vitamin B6 (Garcia-Lopez et al, 2008).

Additionally, a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind phase four trial in Spain also demonstrated that a magnesium and vitamin B6 supplement can reduce symptoms of Tourette Syndrome (Garcia-Lopez et al, 2009).

Due to that, I have been consistently taking vitamin B6 and magnesium to reduce my tics for years, and I believe it makes a significant difference for me!

Although these research studies used higher dosages of magnesium, I prefer to intake a maximum of 250mg of magnesium in supplement form. Also, I only use magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate supplements because they have the best absorption. The Tolerable Upper Limit for magnesium from magnesium supplements per day is 350mg for adults, but I only take about 200mg of supplemental magnesium per day.

If you would like to try a magnesium supplement, this is a great product:

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Yoga & Tourette Syndrome

Although there is only limited research on the effects of yoga for tics, I have had a ton of success with controlling my tics since beginning to regularly practice yoga. I especially enjoy practicing hatha yoga which contains longer stretches and more deep breathing exercises.

Yoga is a commonly used complementary therapy for many people who are living with Tourette Syndrome, and it is a generally excellent form of exercise that can provide many health benefits.

If you would like to try practicing yoga, you can use free yoga videos on YouTube, or you can use the online yoga classes at YogaDownload.com as I do.

 

 

Aside from these scientifically researched methods, I have my own anecdotal tips for treating Tourette’s.

For starters, I strongly suggest yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are two of the best forms of exercise for anyone, and they have many specific benefits for those with TS.

Along with that, I have had enormous success using CBD Oil to control my tics. Not all CBD Oil products are created equally, so you should check out my CBD Oil articles to read my review of various quality CBD products. Although the research is currently inconclusive, research indicates that cannabis and cannabinoids have a positive impact on TS.

Furthermore, I also consistently drink a variety of herbal teas which help with calming my tics. Tea such as lavender, chamomile, turmeric, and other non-caffeinated teas seem to help my body remain calm and help reduce my tics.

I have many other anecdotal tips as well, and you can feel free to contact me if you would like to hear more.

Concluding Thoughts – The Future for Those Living with Tourette Syndrome

Currently,

“the Federal government, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is responsible for supporting and conducting research on the brain and nervous system” (NINDS 2012).

Genetic studies, neuroimaging, and clinical trials and experiments are all being conducted to help understand more about where Tourette syndrome originates in order to help prevent it.  Knowledge of TS has begun to grow, impacting the services and help available to those suffering from it.

Although the severe forms of Tourette’s may seem debilitating to those who see the disease from the outside, proven research has shown that it is extremely possible for individuals suffering from TS to succeed in educational environments and other areas of life.  In school settings, necessary adaptations may need to be made to correctly work-with these individuals, and a complete understanding of the syndrome will allow for maximum potential to be fulfilled.

Although I do not have the more-severe vocal tics, I also hope that my accomplishments (and the accomplishments of others with Tourette Syndrome) demonstrate the fact that people with TS truly can do anything they would like in life.

There are certainly times when living day-to-day is a struggle; I managed to achieve my dream of becoming a professional basketball player, even with Tourette Syndrome.

If you have any additional questions about living with Tourette Syndrome and how to handle any of the complex issues TS brings, please do not hesitate to contact me and ask!

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Adam Kemp
Hello! My name is Adam Kemp. I am a professional basketball player and an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer. In 2014 I graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in Communications, and for the last seven years, I have played professional basketball in Europe. I am also an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, and I am currently completing my Masters of Science in Nutrition Education at American University. The health and fitness tips you can find throughout the articles I have written include information I have learned throughout my basketball career, academic studies, and my own personal research. If you would like to learn more about my life, please take a moment to follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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