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The truth about Tourette's is more ordinary than you think

By Bruce Holtgren
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's impossible to navigate through popular culture without having heard about Tourette's syndrome. And why not? It's not exactly your ordinary medical affliction. Unfortunately, for most people, Tourette's is equated with its rarest symptom: involuntary outbursts of cursing and other inappropriate language.

You probably would be surprised to know that only about 10 to 15 percent of people with Tourette's have "that cursing thing," the peculiar urge that is known as coprolalia. I, too, used to think Tourette's was synonymous with swearing. Had I known the truth, I might have been diagnosed decades earlier.

Those who do exhibit coprolalia and other pronounced symptoms certainly deserve much more respect and compassion than they get. More broadly, everyone with Tourette's needs better public understanding, and especially an end to the stigma that surrounds this sometimes bizarre disorder.

Tourette's, a genetic affliction, is characterized by two or more "motor tics" -- involuntary physical movements such as facial grimaces or moving the head, neck or limbs in odd ways -- and at least one vocal tic, which is usually little more than humming, grunting or whistling. Onset usually comes by mid-childhood, with severity of tics most frequently seen by age 10 or 12. In the majority of cases, tics then gradually diminish to little or nothing by adulthood. The course of each case is as unique as each individual; there is no such thing as a "typical" case of Tourette's.

A freak-show image

As medical problems go, Tourette's is, except in the most severe cases, about the most minor imaginable thing to have. It's never fatal, and very rarely a disability. Indeed, countless people live their whole lives without realizing they have the disorder. Countless others know they have it but don't bother with treatment or even getting a diagnosis because they can live with the tics more readily than bothering with highly imperfect medications and their side effects.

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