Tourette syndrome (TS) is a type of tic disorder. Tics are sudden muscle movements or vocal sounds that can range from mild to severe. TS, a neurological condition, is usually diagnosed during childhood.
TS may be a genetic condition, passed from parents to children. This is still being studied. TS may also be linked to problems with dopamine levels, a chemical in the brain that sends signals to neurons.
TS may be inherited through genes, which make up DNA.
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TS is more common in males. Risk factors include:
- Family history of TS, other tic disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Low birth weight
- Maternal factors, such as stress during pregnancy
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can occur suddenly and the length of time they last can vary. Tics may temporarily decrease with concentration or distraction. During times of stress, they may occur more often.
Tics can be muscle movements (motor tics) or vocal sounds (vocal tics). They can also be characterized as simple or complex. Here are some common examples:
- Simple—eye blinking, facial grimacing, head jerking, arm or leg thrusting
- Complex—jumping, smelling, touching things or other people, twirling around
- Simple—throat clearing, coughing, sniffing, grunting, yelping, barking
- Complex—saying words or phrases that do not make sense in a given situation, saying obscene or socially unacceptable words (called coprolalia)
Your child may also have other related conditions, such as:
- Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD or ADHD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. Your child will probably be referred to a mental health expert. This person will evaluate your child.
Work with the doctor to create a treatment plan that is right for your child. Options include:
Education and Counseling
One important part of treatment is for the child and his family to learn about this syndrome. It is also helpful if the child’s teachers, classmates, and friends understand the condition.
Your child may also benefit from behavior therapy. This can include doing relaxation techniques and self-monitoring. A technique known as “habit reversal therapy” and other behavioral treatments have proven helpful for some children.
In most cases, medication is not needed to treat TS. If tics are severe and disrupt your child’s life, medications may be advised to reduce symptoms. If medication is ineffective or otherwise not right for your child, talk to your doctor about non-medication treatment options and if they are appropriate for your child.
There is no known way to prevent TS.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc.
Tourette Syndrome Association of Ontario
Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed November 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014