Tic Disorders

What are tics?

Tics are muscle movements, or sounds, that a child makes without meaning to do so. Tics are hard to stop or control. Some children are able to briefly hold back their tics, but usually not for long. If tics are severe, or happen often, they can affect a child’s life in many ways. The tics may go away after a time or children may keep having the tics into adulthood.

There are different kinds of tics.

  • Motor tics are brief, rapid movements of the face, hands, or legs that happen over and over.
  • Vocal tics can be words, throat clearing, or other sounds that are not made on purpose.

Tics may involve just a single muscle group, such as eye blinking or sticking out the tongue. Or they may include multiple muscle groups in a coordinated movement such as jumping, head shaking, or throwing an object.

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a type of tic disorder that causes both motor and vocal tics. It usually begins in early childhood, lasts more than a year, and is usually lifelong, though the symptoms may decrease as your child grows older.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of tic disorders is not known. They tend to run in families. Boys are much more likely to have them than girls. Tics may be related to low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, strep infection, not enough magnesium in the diet, caffeine, or brain diseases.

As many as 1 in every 4 children develops a short-term tic. This is fairly common in school-aged children as they adjust to new routines, new schools, and new friendships.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Eye twitches or very fast eye blinks
  • Uncontrolled face movements
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Head jerks
  • Kicking
  • Grunting, throat clearing, or sniffling

A child may have one type of tic or many different tics. The tic may start in one body part and spread to other body parts. Children often have trouble paying attention and concentrating because they are distracted by their tics.

How are they diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have tests or scans to check for possible causes of the symptoms, such as a seizure disorder.

How are they treated?

With simple tics, very little treatment may be needed. Typically, a child will have more tics when tense or stressed and fewer tics when asleep, relaxed, or focused on a task. The use of relaxation techniques or biofeedback may help your child deal with stress.

Complex tic disorders may be treated with medicine and behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy teaches children things they can do to decrease tics.

How can I help take care of my child?

Never punish or shame a child for tic behaviors. There is very little that your child can do to control or stop the tics. Telling your child to stop does not solve the problem. In fact, it may make tics worse. Don’t make a big deal out of the behavior.

If your child’s symptoms are seriously interfering with his or her daily life, get help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-01-29
Last reviewed: 2014-01-12
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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