Tourette Syndrome

What is Tourette syndrome?

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a disorder that causes both motor and vocal 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. If tics are severe, or happen often, they can affect a child’s life in many ways.

Tourette syndrome is usually lifelong, though symptoms may improve for weeks or even years at a time. In most cases, the symptoms decrease by your 40s or 50s.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is not known. It runs in families. It may also be related to low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, strep infection, or brain diseases.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Eye twitches or eye blinks
  • Facial grimaces
  • Head jerks
  • Kicking, jumping, bending, or twisting
  • Touching objects
  • Grunting, throat clearing, or sniffling
  • Yelping, making up words, or repeating words over and over
  • Angry outbursts

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. Sometimes tics disappear for minutes or hours. Children with TS often have trouble paying attention and concentrating because they are distracted by their tics. Some develop obsessions, such as needing to have things in a particular order, or they may have compulsions, such as checking, counting, or repeating words.

How is it 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 is it treated?

The best form of treatment for Tourette syndrome is medicine. Behavioral therapy may also help by teaching children things they can do to decrease tics.

How can I 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. Do not make a big deal out of the behaviors.

Learn as much as you can about Tourette syndrome. If your child’s symptoms are seriously interfering with his or her daily life, seek help from your child’s healthcare provider or a mental health professional. If your child is diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, your child’s school may be able to provide some additional support.

You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-19
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.
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