Tourette syndrome is a disorder that causes uncontrollable movements and vocal sounds called tics. It often shows up in early childhood and improves in adulthood. Tics can be mild or severe. About 200,000 people in the U.S. have a severe form of Tourette syndrome. Medication and therapy can help reduce tics.
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder that affects the brain and nerves. TS causes a person to make sudden movements or sounds called “tics.” Tics are involuntary, so you can’t control or prevent them. Motor tics involve body movements, like shoulder shrugging. Vocal tics involve the voice, like throat clearing. Motor tics tend to develop before vocal tics.
Tourette syndrome, or Tourette’s, usually develops in early childhood. It often improves as you become an adult. TS is the most severe type of tic disorder.
About one in 100 children have some form of tic disorder. Tourette syndrome is less common. It affects about one out of 160 children.
Tourette syndrome is the most severe tic disorder, but there are other types. Your healthcare provider will use your symptoms to determine what kind of tic disorder you have.
Tic disorders include:
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome (TS) is unknown. The condition tends to run in families, so genes probably play a role. Problems with how your brain metabolizes (breaks down) neurotransmitters may also contribute to TS. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are chemicals in the brain that regulate behavior and movement.
Risk factors for Tourette syndrome include:
Tics are the main symptom of Tourette’s. They usually start between ages five and seven, peaking around age 12.
Tics are complex or simple:
Other examples of motor tics include:
Examples of vocal tics include:
Some tics are harmful, such as motor tics that cause someone to hit themselves in the face. A vocal tic called coprolalia leads to swearing or inappropriate language. This type of tic can make someone seem purposefully disruptive or offensive, even though it’s an uncontrollable impulse. Children with coprolalia might receive unwarranted punishment at school or at home.
For a healthcare provider to diagnose someone with a tic disorder, the tics must have started before the age of 18. To diagnose you with Tourette’s, you must have been experiencing motor and vocal tics (both) for more than a year.
There isn’t a blood test or imaging exam that can detect Tourette syndrome. Instead, your healthcare provider carefully reviews your medical history and symptoms. They may ask detailed questions about the tics, including:
Your healthcare provider may also do tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing tics.
Most people with Tourette’s have other health conditions. These are usually mental or behavioral health disorders, including:
Mild tics that don’t affect everyday activities might not need treatment. However, severe tics can make it hard to function at work, school or in social situations. Some tics even lead to self-injury. In these cases, medication or behavioral therapy may help.
Your healthcare provider may recommend neuroleptics for Tourette syndrome. Neuroleptics are drugs that limit the activity of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that can increase tics. Other medications can help manage conditions that occur with Tourette’s, such as ADHD or OCD.
The tics associated with Tourette’s are involuntary, so they aren’t something you can control. But new therapies help people manage tics and reduce their negative effects.
Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) helps people:
Tourette syndrome isn’t preventable. But, early detection and treatment may prevent TS from worsening or lasting into adulthood.
There’s no cure for Tourette syndrome. The condition usually improves in early adulthood. Tics may still occur, but most adults don’t need to continue medication or therapy. People with Tourette syndrome have a normal life expectancy.
Living with Tourette syndrome can be challenging, especially for children. It might be hard for them to focus on schoolwork and interact with others. A strong support system of friends, family members and teachers helps children manage Tourette’s.
Children with Tourette’s may also benefit from:
Contact a healthcare provider right away if someone with Tourette syndrome:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tourette syndrome is a neurological condition. It causes someone to make involuntary movements or sounds called tics. The disorder starts in childhood and usually decreases in early adulthood. Medication and behavioral therapy are the most common treatments for Tourette syndrome. Neurologists or psychiatrists can care for Tourette’s.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/23/2021.
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