Patients with frequent or severe symptoms may benefit from medications. Low doses of neuroleptic drugs (like Haldol® or Risperdal®) may help to reduce the frequency and intensity of tics. The medications must be used with caution because they may cause side effects, such as drooling, slowness of movement, restlessness or contraction of the facial and neck muscles. A serious side effect associated with neuroleptic medications is the development of tardive dyskinesia, a condition characterized by persistent, repetitive involuntary movements.
Researchers are now looking at a way to help patients safely deal with tics without medication, using a comprehensive program of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is commonly used for patients with mental health disorders. Therapists teach patients about the nature of their problem (for Tourette patients, tics) and develop ways to help them cope with the symptoms that bring on the tic response.
Alan Peterson, Ph.D., a Psychiatry Professor/Researcher at UT Health Science Center, San Antonio, is testing CBT for tics. The goal is to teach specific strategies or techniques to reduce, or in some cases, eliminate, tics. People with Tourette usually experience sensory phenomenon or feelings of tension before the onset of a tic. Patients may learn to recognize the signs and hold back on expression of the tic, through methods like distraction or muscle contraction.
Peterson uses a very comprehensive program that involves about 8 sessions lasting 60 to 90 minutes each. He cautions the treatment is not a cure, but may significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of tics. The San Antonio researchers are still looking for adult participants. The study is also taking place at Yale University and Harvard University. Investigators want to learn how well the treatment works and how long the effects last.