A History of Tourette Syndrome

TOURETTE SYNDROME- Once Thought of as Hysteria?

The first cases of what we now call Tourettes were discovered in Paris during the decade of 1870 at the Salpetriere Hospital for insane and incurable women. It was under the direction of neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, that these women were subject to questionable “examinations”, sexually abused and turned into medical specimens. Charcot, having never seen women with this sort of neurological illness, coined the behavior “hysteria”. According to him, this crop of bizarre new female behaviors were symptoms of hysteria and stemmed directly from women’s unhappy position in society. These women clearly suffered from an array of chemical imbalances that, at the time, were generalized and labled as mad, mentally retarded, violent, unmarried and pregnant or old and poor. Seen as social outcasts, they were carted off to Salpetriere for a life of exploitation.

Gilles de la Tourette was one of Charcot’s best students and worked closely with the patients. Tourette studied the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome in nine patients at Salpetriere in 1884 describing it as “maladie des tics”. Dr. Charcot renamed the illness Tourette Syndrome, in honor of his student.

Although Charcot was regarded a brilliant neurologist of his day, his methods of treating hysteria were seen as an embarrassment to his otherwise successful medical career. Needless to say, Charcot died without finding a cure for “hysteria“.

Ironically, although mostly women were first observed to have Tourettes, it is in fact men that constitute the majority of Tourettes cases today. Learn about some of the notable athletes, celebrities, and other characters who have made it big despite suffering from Tourettes or other neurological disorders such as OCD.

  1. Hustvedt, Asti. Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris. ©2011.
  2. “Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001744/.  Last Reviewed February 5, 2011.
  3. “Georges Gilles de la Tourette.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Gilles_de_la_Tourette.