Tourette’s disorder (Tourette’s syndrome) is a physical and mental health condition characterized by the presence of involuntary sound production and involuntary body movement. Roughly 90 percent of all people affected by this disorder also have some other significant mental health complaint; more often than not, that complaint is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD. In 2009, a team of Canadian researchers examined the connections between Tourette’s disorder and ADHD. These researchers concluded that both of the disorders have underlying birth-related risk factors that steeply increase their chances of appearing together in the same person.
Tourette’s Disorder Broken Down
Tourette’s disorder is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as both a neurodevelopmental (nerve development-related) disorder and a motor (movement-related) disorder; it belongs to a subset of motor disorders called tic disorders. All tic disorders get their name because they involve some sort of repeated, uncontrolled muscle movement (known medically as a tic). In the case of Tourette’s disorder, recurring tics affect both the movements that control the body in general and the movements that control the production of speech. Some people with the disorder develop relatively minor recurring tics that result in things such as shoulder jerks, grunting sounds, head jerks, throat-clearing sounds, scowling facial expressions, or snorting sounds. Other people develop more serious recurring tics that result in things such as combined shoulder and head jerking, spontaneous hitting or striking of the body, or uncontrolled vocal utterances that sometimes contain profanity.
ADHD’s Conditions And Symptoms
Like Tourette’s disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a neurodevelopmental disorder. People with ADHD may have symptoms that include a poorly developed ability to maintain focus and attention, body overactivity and a poorly developed ability to control impulsive actions, or a combination of both inattention-related problems and problems related to overactivity and poor impulse control. All children naturally show signs of poor focusing skills, hyperactivity or impulsivity while growing up. However, adults and children with ADHD have unusually prominent versions of these problems that are serious enough to interrupt their ability to do such fundamental things as perform well in school, find work, or participate in fulfilling social interactions.
Understanding Connections Between Tourette’s Disorder And ADHD
Roughly 65 percent of all people with a Tourette’s disorder diagnosis also qualify for an ADHD diagnosis, according to the results of a study and study review published in 2008 in the journal Brain and Development. In addition, in many cases, the tics associated with Tourette’s disorder can strongly resemble the hyperactive behaviors that occur in many people affected by ADHD. However, while both disorders are classified as neurodevelopmental disorders, they have distinctive genetic origins that differentiate them from one another, and until recently no one could really explain why they appear together so often.
In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Calgary examined almost 400 children with Tourette’s disorder in an effort to understand the overlap between the disorder and ADHD. Some of the children in the study also had official ADHD diagnoses, while others did not. In particular, the researchers focused on the presence of perinatal risk factors, a term that describes risks to the health of a newborn child that arise somewhere between the five-month period prior to birth and the one-month period following birth. Examples of these risk factors include cigarette smoking by an expectant mother, premature birth of a child, and unusually low birth weight in a newborn infant.
After reviewing the perinatal risks present in the study participants, the authors of the study concluded that—apart from any genetic factors involved—children exposed to these risks increase their chances of developing combined cases of Tourette’s disorder and ADHD by anywhere from 100 to 200 percent. Based on this finding, the study’s authors also concluded that premature birth, fetal exposure to cigarette smoke and other perinatal risks probably play an active role in triggering ADHD in children with genetic risks for Tourette’s disorder, rather than merely occurring more often that statistics would normally predict.
Can The Risk Factors For Tourette’s Disorder And ADHD Be Prevented?
The authors of the study in Brain and Development note that the perinatal risk factors for Tourette’s disorder and ADHD are entirely preventable. This means that expectant mothers who avoid smoking and take steps to minimize the risks for premature birth and low infant birth weight can significantly reduce their children’s chances of developing these significantly harmful mental health conditions, even if they pass inherited risks for the conditions to their children.
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