OFTEN public awareness and opinion about a condition is influenced by the volume and flavour of media coverage. I include depictions in film within this, as visual presentations of an illness on stage and in cinema can be powerful and long lasting.

Sadly, many will associate Tourette’s Syndrome, first described in 1885 by the French physician Gilles de la Tourette, with involuntary swearing or coprolalia to use its medical name. Yet coprolalia affects only 10 per cent or less of those with the condition.

Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) is a neurological condition, rather than a psychiatric illness. It involves involuntary, (this being the vital word) motor and vocal tics. Motor tics are abnormal movements which can affect the whole body, though symptoms such as eye blinking, grimacing and repetitive nodding may be more apparent than subtle tics of the arms and legs.

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Vocal tics encompass as mentioned above uncontrollable swearing, throat clearing, coughing, sniffing, yelling or the production of animal like sounds.

Other symptoms may include repeating the words and actions of others (echophenomena) and palilalia (repeating your own words).

Tics themselves are surprisingly common, with 1 in 5 children affected at some point. They also occur in adults, either chronically, or often acutely at times of significant physical or emotional stress. However, for a diagnosis of Tourette’s to be made, the tics have to last for more than 12 months, and commence before the age of 18.

Tourette’s syndrome is more prevalent than might be assumed, affecting an estimated 1 in 100 children.

As a neurological condition, it is caused by subtle changes in the brain, still not fully understood. An imbalance in levels of one of the neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) dopamine, is thought to contribute.

Treatment is guided by the severity of symptoms and includes behavioural therapies, namely CBT and habit reversal training.

Despite there being no cure for Tourette’s, the outlook is good as the condition is not a neurodegenerative illness, so those affected do not lose their functioning power. Many find that by adulthood symptoms have gone, or at least reduced by a significant level. Some obviously continue to struggle with established tics, and in others new tics may appear.

Tourette’s Awareness Month runs until June 15.