Tics — sudden, brief, intermittent movements or sounds — are the hallmark sign of Tourette syndrome. They can range from mild to severe. Severe symptoms might significantly interfere with communication, daily functioning and quality of life.
Tics are classified as:
- Simple tics. These sudden, brief and repetitive tics involve a limited number of muscle groups.
- Complex tics. These distinct, coordinated patterns of movements involve several muscle groups.
Tics also can involve movement (motor tics) or sounds (vocal tics). Motor tics usually begin before vocal tics do. But the spectrum of tics that people experience is diverse.
Common motor tics seen in Tourette syndrome
||Touching or smelling objects
||Repeating observed movements
||Stepping in a certain pattern
||Bending or twisting
Common vocal tics seen in Tourette syndrome
||Repeating one's own words or phrases
||Repeating others' words or phrases
||Using vulgar, obscene or swear words
In addition, tics can:
- Vary in type, frequency and severity
- Worsen if you're ill, stressed, anxious, tired or excited
- Occur during sleep
- Change over time
- Worsen in the early teenage years and improve during the transition into adulthood
Before the onset of motor or vocal tics, you'll likely experience an uncomfortable bodily sensation (premonitory urge) such as an itch, a tingle or tension. Expression of the tic brings relief. With great effort, some people with Tourette syndrome can temporarily stop or hold back a tic.
When to see a doctor
See your child's pediatrician if you notice your child displaying involuntary movements or sounds.
Not all tics indicate Tourette syndrome. Many children develop tics that go away on their own after a few weeks or months. But whenever a child shows unusual behavior, it's important to identify the cause and rule out serious health problems.
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn't known. It's a complex disorder likely caused by a combination of inherited (genetic) and environmental factors. Chemicals in the brain that transmit nerve impulses (neurotransmitters), including dopamine and serotonin, might play a role.
Risk factors for Tourette syndrome include:
- Family history. Having a family history of Tourette syndrome or other tic disorders might increase the risk of developing Tourette syndrome.
- Sex. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome.
People with Tourette syndrome often lead healthy, active lives. However, Tourette syndrome frequently involves behavioral and social challenges that can harm your self-image.
Conditions often associated with Tourette syndrome include:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Sleep disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Pain related to tics, especially headache
- Anger-management problems
Nov. 21, 2015
- Jankovic J. Tourette syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 7, 2015.
- Ferri FF. Tourette's syndrome. In: Ferri's Practical Guide: Fast Facts for Patient Care. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 7, 2015.
- Hallett M. Tourette syndrome: Update. Brain & Development. 2015;37:651.
- Zhang JG, et al. Long-term outcomes of globus pallidus internus deep brain stimulation in patients with Tourette syndrome. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2014;89:1506.
- Gilbert DL, et al. Pharmacological treatment of Tourette syndrome. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. 2014;3:407.
- Swaiman K, et al., eds. Tics and Tourette's syndrome. In: Swaiman's Pediatric Neurology: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier: 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2015.
- Shaw ZA, et al. Tics and Tourette syndrome. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2014;37:269.
- Ganos C, et al. Tics and Tourette syndrome. Neurologic Clinics. 2015;33:115.
- Ghosh D, et al. Sleep disorders in children with Tourette syndrome. Pediatric Neurology. 2014;51:31.
- Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 18, 2015.
- Tourette syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tourette/detail_tourette.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2015.