Tourette’s Syndrome
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“What is Tourette’s syndrome?”

Technically this should be called Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome as the name of the person who first described this was Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette. Born into a medical family in West-Central France in 1857, he studied Medicine in Poitiers and Paris. He was described by a friend as "a jovial and exuberant young man with a loud voice. Very ardent, but not very patient because over-excited, he got worked up in the most minor argument". Gilles de la Tourette’s early work focused on new therapeutic techniques such as suspension, vibration and hypnotherapy.

In 1894 he first described the syndrome that is named after him. He noticed that a number of people who had a tic (involuntary twitching) and who often swore. One of these was an aristocratic lady who was noted to have had the symptoms since the age of 7 and who lived as a recluse due to her condition. She was noted to have "ticked and blasphemed" until her death at the age of 80.

Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome is rare condition which starts in childhood, usually at the age of 7 to 10 years. Boys are 4 times more likely to be affected than girls. The condition is associated with immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases which have just been heard, and by a compulsion to repeat sounds, words, or phrases many of which are swear words (however, this is rare). The vocalisations are accompanied by involuntary and purposeless movements, consisting of mild facials spasms and blinking with the eyes, and/or violent tics in eyes, head, arms, and legs, or other parts of the body. It is distressing for the individuals them selves as well as their families as these involuntary actions and sounds can lead to a great deal of anxiety and stress when facing

Famous people who are thought to have suffered from this condition are Dr. Samuel Johnson, the diarist and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart due to his “foul mouth and his love of nonsense words”

Unfortunately Gilles de la Tourettes’ young son died in about 1895 and very soon afterwards he was shot in the head by a young lady with a history of mental illness. He recovered, but following this episode he became morose and withdrawn, suffering from intermittent bouts of depression. He became increasingly unstable and eventually was admitted into a Swiss asylum where he died in 1904.

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