According to reports, many teenage girls, especially in the US, are developing tics — a nervous system reaction — usually caused by Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder. The same, as per experts, has been linked to watching videos of TikTok influencers who said they had the syndrome. However, experts in the US have also suggested that tics could be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.
To understand more about the underlying condition — Tourette Syndrome — we reached out to experts.
What is Tourette Syndrome?
A condition of the nervous system, the syndrome causes people to develop tics or sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that occur repeatedly. People who have tics have involuntary reactions, or in simple terms, they cannot stop their body from doing these things. For example, a person might keep blinking over and over.
The exact cause of the disorder is unknown, said Dr Rajnish Kumar, Senior Consultant and Unit head, Neurology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
Dr Praveen Gupta, Director, Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute added that the cause could be attributed to the “mal-development of the brain which may prevent one from engaging or interacting with people”. It usually starts in childhood.
What exactly are tics?
Dr Gupta said that tics can be genetic, or environmental, which includes motor and visual tics. As tics are involuntary muscle spasms, they consist of abrupt intermittent twitches of a group of muscles. The most frequent forms of tics are:
The symptoms usually vary from one person to the other. “The main symptom is tics. Some are so mild that they’re not even noticeable. Others happen often and are obvious. Stress, excitement, or being sick or tired can make them worse. The more severe ones can be embarrassing and can affect your social life or work. Tourette’s has been linked to different parts of the brain, including an area called the basal ganglia, which helps control body movements. Differences there may affect nerve cells and the chemicals that carry messages between them. Researchers think that the trouble in this brain network may play a role in Tourette’s,” Dr Kumar noted.
As per Dr Bharath Kumar Surisetti, consultant neurologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, males are affected more than females by the condition. The age of onset is around 2-15 years,” Dr Surisetti said.
As per Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no single test to diagnose the syndrome. ‘Health professionals look at the person’s symptoms to diagnose the syndrome and other tic disorders. Tic disorders differ from each other in terms of the type of tic present (motor or vocal, or combination of the both), and how long the symptoms have lasted. The syndrome can be diagnosed if a person has both motor and vocal tics, and has had tic symptoms for at least a year,’ as per CDC.gov.in.
However, imaging and lab tests are needed to rule out other conditions which can be confused with tics, said Dr Surisetti.
Behavioural therapy or psychotherapy is often recommended. “This involves one-on-one counselling with a licensed mental health professional. There are no medications that can cure Tourette Syndrome. However, some medications like Haloperidol (Haldol), risperidone (Risperdal), aripiprazole (Abilify) or other neuroleptic drugs may be recommended to manage the symptoms,” stated Dr Kumar.
Dr Surisetti added, “Associated co-morbid depression, ADHD and anxiety should be treated.”