Tourettes, other tic disorders far more common than once thought

One out of four students in special-education classes has a tic-related disorder like Tourette syndrome, and the rate of Tourettes among students in the general population is 50 to 75 times higher than has been traditionally thought by doctors, according to a study published in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Neurology.

The neurologists who did the study say that Tourettes comes in many forms, including variations much milder than the profanity-spewing, limb-jerking characters seen on TV shows like Ally McBeal and LA Law. Doctors say the findings should raise awareness among teachers and doctors that children who are performing poorly in school and who have tics may need medical treatment, and that such treatment could ease school difficulties for these students.

Most people view Tourettes as a very rare, unusual disorder with bizarre symptoms, but its really very common, usually with mild symptoms, says Roger Kurlan, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the Neurology paper. The cases you see on TV are the most severe cases, and theyre just the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of Tourettes are much milder and dont progress to the severe form.

In the study of 1,596 children in Rochester, N.Y., 8 percent of children in special education met the criteria for Tourettes, and about 27 percent had some tic disorder. In the general population, 3 percent had Tourettes, and 20 percent had a tic disorder. The rate of 3 percent in the general population is about 50 to 75 times higher than typical estimates.

While tics like barking obscenities or jerking ones head are easy to spot, there are a slew of other repetitive and involuntary movements or vocalizations tics that are usually overlooked by family, friends and co-workers as strange or annoying habits, Kurlan says. Common tics include rapid eye-blinking, scrunching up ones nose, little jerks of the head, facial twitches,

Contact: Tom Rickey
University of Rochester Medical Center

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