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Children, Tourette's Syndrome, and Nicotine Patches

Tourette's Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by what are called tics--involuntary, sudden, rapid movements and/or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same ways. They might tap on objects or repeat certain words. People with Tourette's experience tics many times a day, usually in bouts.

This Moment of Science is about a recent study using nicotine patches to help relieve the motor tics of Tourette's patients. The patches were given to young subjects between the ages of 8 and 18, as a supplement to their regular drug, Haldol. This may seem surprising considering the stigma attached to nicotine. Nicotine is bad, right? And to prescribe it to children is worse, isn't it?

Regardless, the nicotine patches' impact on relieving these kids' tics was so high that their tics were less severe and less frequent even after their Haldol dosage was cut in half. Additionally, after their patches were removed for two weeks the patients continued to experience less severe and less frequent tics.

But are these kids now going to be addicted to nicotine? Thus far, researchers have discovered no evidence of addiction. It might help that the patches release nicotine slowly so that it reaches its peak in the blood in about three hours, much slower than when smoking a cigarette.

These results are important because Haldol is a powerful tranquilizer. Though it helps control the symptoms of Tourette's, it may also severely slow down motor function and dull the patient's ability to think. If a nicotine patch means a smaller dosage of Haldol, that's promising news. The downside is that the nicotine patch comes with side effects--namely, nausea and dizziness.

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