Twelve-year-old Jerry appears to be like many other boys his
But if you talk with Jerry, don't be surprised if he makes unusual
sounds during your conversation.
Jerry has Tourette's syndrome, a rare disorder of the central
nervous system. Symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome usually include
uncontrollable body motions and verbal utterances, says Dr. Robert
Rodnitzky, a neurology professor in the University of Iowa Carver
College of Medicine.
"Uncontrollable grunting, swearing, shouting, kicking, blinking,
and shrugging are some visible symptoms of Tourette's," Rodnitzky
says. "These involuntary movements and vocalizations are called
The verbal tic is one of the most well-known indicators of
Tourette's Syndrome, Rodnitzky says. Grunts, shouts, and swearing can
leave an indelible impression on people witnessing that behavior, he
"It can be embarrassing for a Tourette's patient, especially when the verbal
tics are socially unacceptable words," he says. But informed
professionals, such as school teachers, can help to promote
understanding of the illness and discourage negative responses to
Tourette's patients from other persons.
Tourette's syndrome is believed to be caused by a chemical
imbalance in the brain. In many patients there appears to be a
genetic predisposition to the illness because other family members
also may have tics, he says. Four of five Tourette's patients are
The symptoms usually begin to appear sometime between 5 and 15
years of age, and usually improve and sometimes disappear after
Another challenge for Tourette's patients is the frequent occurrence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, he adds.
No one ever dies from Tourette's Syndrome, Rodnitzky says.
Tourette's sufferers can learn to adjust to their illness.
"In a vast majority of cases, the most traumatic aspect of the
disease is the social stigma it places on its victims. Some people
become isolated and avoid social situations," Rodnitzky says. "But
many others learn to adjust and with the help of medication can lead
a relatively normal life."
Drugs may alleviate some of the symptoms, but currently there is
no cure, Dr. Rodnitzky says.