CBT can reduce Tics and impact neurophysiology in people with Tourette syndrome

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Tourette syndrome is a distressing neurological condition that is characterised by motor and vocal tics. Tics can be described as repetitive and involuntary movements or utterances which can range from facial grimacing, excessive eye blinking, jerky movements of the head, legs, shoulders, or any other part of the body, to constant throat clearing, sniffing, snorting or grunting or making other vocal noises.

No one knows what causes Tourette’s but many professionals believe that Tourette’s could be a result of a disturbance in cell to cell communication in the brain. The Tics tend to be most severe in childhood, perhaps because as children grow into adults they learn to live with the condition, if the Tics are severe enough to interfere with day to day functioning, then drugs such as Neuroleptics are often prescribed to help suppress the Tics.

Now a new study published in the International Journal of Cognitive Therapy has found that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for treating Tics can be as effective, if not even more effective than medication.

The researchers from Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of the Louis-H Lafontaine Hospital, which is affiliated with Montreal University, noted that the therapy not only had an effect on tics, but also on brain activity.

“This discovery could have major repercussions on the treatment of this illness. In some cases, the physiological measures could allow for the improvement of the therapy in order to tailor it to a specific type of patient” stated Dr. Marc Lavoie, a researcher at Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of the Louis-H Lafontaine Hospital and with the Psychiatry Department of Université de Montréal.

The research involved asking one group of 10 adults with Tourette syndrome and 14 adults with no neurological impairment to carry out a series of tasks which would stimulate certain areas of the brain. In order to assess brain activity, an electroencephalogram was used.

Six months later they were all asked to carry out the same tasks again after having received cognitive behaviour therapy or CBT as it is often called. Dr Lavoie and his team found that after CBT there was a quantifiable “normalisation” of brain activity along with an improvement in the symptoms of Tourette’s.

“On the one hand, therapy leads to cognitive restructuring, and on the other, to behavioural and physiological modifications” said Dr Lavoie. He also pointed out that this is the first study to demonstrate the physiological effects of CBT for patients with Tourette’s, however; other larger studies will be needed to confirm these results.

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