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Tourette Syndrome and Other Tic Disorders


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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What are tics?

Tics are sudden, rapid movements or sounds that you make without intending to. You may repeat the movements or sounds a few times or over and over.

Tourette syndrome is a disorder causing tics that involve both movements and sounds and go on for more than a year.

Although people don't do tics on purpose, they have a very strong urge to do them, like when you have an urge to sneeze. Like with sneezing, it's very hard to stop a tic. But sometimes you can keep from doing it for a few minutes.

  • Tics that involve movements (motor tics) include things like blinking, frowning, and head jerking

  • Tics that involve sounds (vocal tics) include things like throat clearing or grunting

  • Tics may come many times a day or only every few months

  • Tics that involve complicated movements or speech can interfere with your life

  • Mild tics often go away on their own as you get older

  • Because tics aren't done on purpose, you shouldn't punish or shame a child for doing them

Who gets tics?

What causes tics?

  • The cause of tics isn't known

  • Tics often run in families

Tics aren't intentional. Punishing a child for having tics can't stop them and may even make the tics worse.

What are the symptoms of tics?

Tics may be simple or complex.

Simple tics are very brief. They include:

  • Blinking

  • Frowning

  • Head jerking

  • Shoulder shrugging

  • Grunting or barking

  • Sniffing or snorting

  • Repeated throat clearing

Because simple tics are just quick movements and sounds that don't mean anything, they don't usually cause a lot of social problems.

Complex tics last longer and may combine different simple tics. Complex tics include:

  • A combination of head jerking plus shoulder shrugging

  • Cursing

  • Using inappropriate gestures

  • Repeating other people’s sounds

  • Imitating other people’s movements over and over

Complex tics can seem like they mean something insulting or rude. So people with severe complex tics may have problems at work, school, or with friends. They may be very anxious to be around other people or may try to avoid people.

How do doctors diagnose a tic disorder?

Doctors diagnose a tic disorder when you do things that appear to be tics and that meet certain other criteria. There are no tests to diagnose tic disorders.

How do doctors treat tic disorders?

If symptoms are mild, doctors encourage you to understand that the tics are harmless and you should just wait until they disappear on their own. Sometimes older children and adults can work with a therapist to learn relaxation techniques or other things that may help control their tics.

If the tics continue for a long time and affect daily activities, doctors may try medicines to lessen the tics.

People who have tics should be evaluated and treated for obsessive-compulsive disorders, attention-deficit disorder, and other problems that people with tics often have. Children who are struggling in school because of their tics should be evaluated for learning disorders and provided with support.

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