Tourette Syndrome is a highly misunderstood neurological disorder. It is depicted throughout movies, television, and writing as an uncontrollable urge to shout profanities— usually as a comedic crutch for incompetent writers (damnit!) In reality, such involuntary cursing is a very rare subset of Tourette symptoms, and few tourettics ever experience it.
More commonly, Tourette sufferers are gripped with an intense inclination to repeatedly make certain movements or sounds, called “tics.” Someone with vocal tics might feel an urge to repeat words spoken by oneself or another person; to say words aloud after reading them; or to make repeated moaning or grunting sounds. Motor-related Tourette’s tics can be an endless variety of repeated, unnecessary movements, such as face contortions, hand-clapping, spinning, or even some highly disabling tics, such as punching oneself in the face.
Although these tics are involuntary, individuals with Tourette’s can usually sense the impending tic, much like an approaching yawn or sneeze, and postpone its expression for several minutes or several hours. But symptoms cannot be resisted indefinitely, and a delay often exacerbates their severity, so people with Tourette’s will often exert effort to resist their tics until they can find seclusion, and release the pent-up symptoms all at once.
Tourette’s is usually inherited genetically, and is three to four times more frequent in males. While medication is available to treat a few specific symptoms, the cure in many ways is worse than the disease, having unwanted short- and long-term side effects. Last year, an experimental surgery placed tiny electrodes in a tourettic’s brain, and within 30 seconds of activating the electrodes, the patient’s symptoms completely disappeared. Such drastic measures are unlikely to become widespread however, because the procedure carries too much risk when weighed against the benefits for most individuals with Tourette Syndrome.