Cure for Tourette Syndrome? Breakthrough, Pill-Free Treatment Gives New Hope

By Anthony Smith on August 14, 2012 2:02 PM EDT

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Pills (Photo: Flickr.com/MagineArt.com)

A breakthrough treatment is giving new hope to people suffering with Tourette syndrome. Through the use of behavior therapy, those suffering with the affliction receive help suppressing tics that can be humiliating or offensive.

And the best part of this new treatment? It works without the need of any notoriously addicting psychopharmacological pills.

"It really gives patients a wonderful alternative to medications," contended Sabine Wilhelm, the director of the OCD and Related Disorders Program at Massachusetts General Hospital wherein the study was performed.

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"It is something that has created a lot of excitement in the field because now we can finally treat neurological disorders with psychological interventions."

Scientists believe that around three of every thousand-some children have Tourette, and that the condition becomes, for reasons unknown, less common in adults. Symptoms of the condition include jerky movements, grunts, and on the more complex side, even cursing.

"Some patients have tics where they actually hurt themselves," reported Wilhelm, whose finds are regularly published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for Tourette; however, antipsychotic medications have been known to ameliorate the symptoms. Unfortunately, these pills often come with detrimental and severe side-effects like sedation, anxiety, weight gain. Additionally, some are known to be habit forming.

Wilhelm's new study concerned the testing of a breakthrough therapy called Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics, or CBIT, which was borne from an earlier form of behavioral therapy. CBIT focuses on helping the patient become aware of oncoming tics as well as their triggers, so that they can take preventative measures and control their onsets before it becomes too late. It also teaches patients to fight their tics in more subtle ways, such as clenching one's fists when ze feels the urge "to give someone the finger," in Wilhelm's words.

Of the 122 people involved in the study, half were placed into a group that received CBIT training and treatment. Of those placed in the group that received CBIT, 38 percent had much or very much improved, as opposed to the scant six percent in the control group.

"Patients were so grateful," Wilhelm said, "...they would say things like, 'This gives me a way to manage my tics, I now feel like I have control over my body,

"This is hopefully just the first step."

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