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What Causes Tourette’s Syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome, commonly referred to simply as Tourette’s, is a genetic neuropsychiatric disorder that is characterized by vocal and physical tics (involuntary movement or sounds). The severity of the tics differ from person to person with some being so minor they are not noticed and others being severe enough to cause embarrassment. Tourette’s syndrome usually develops in childhood and becomes milder as the person becomes older. Tourette’s’ syndrome does not affect the life expectancy or intelligence of the person with the disorder.

What causes Tourette’s syndrome?
Whilst the exact cause of Tourette’s is unknown studies have found it to be linked to environmental and genetic factors. Studies have shown that the majority of cases of Tourette’s are inherited. There is a 50% chance that a person with Tourette’s will pass the disorder on to their child. However, no studies have been able to find the genetic link that causes this to occur. Not everyone with Tourette’s exhibits symptoms of the syndrome and males are more likely to express tics. Some people with Tourette’s syndrome demonstrate obsessive compulsive behaviours rather than vocal and physical tics.

Environmental factors do not cause Tourette’s syndrome, but can contribute to the severity of the condition. Autoimmune responses such as those that occur during infections can cause tics to develop and make them worse in some cases. For example, research suggests that Tourette’s can be made worse by the autoimmune response to streptococcal bacteria. Other environmental factors that impact on Tourette’s syndrome include psychosocial factors and other post-infection complications.

There has been some research that suggests that Tourette’s syndrome may be caused by abnormalities in certain sections of the brain such as the basal ganglia, thalamus, frontal lobes, and frontal cortex. Abnormalities are also noted in the connections between the different parts of the brain and the neurotransmitters. Due to its complex nature, it is difficult to pinpoint exact causes of the disorder.

Did you know?
Most people associate Tourette’s with vocal tics, such as a person involuntary swearing. However, this type of Tourette’s is relatively uncommon.

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