Tics are rapid movements or sounds that are repeated over and over for no reason. A person with a tic can't control the movement or sounds. Throat clearing and eye blinking are common tics. Tics are often worse when a person feels stressed, tired or anxious. Some medicines can make tics worse.
Tourette syndrome is a type of tic disorder. Children who have Tourette syndrome will repeat both movements and sounds. Several different tics can happen at the same time, but they may not always occur together.
If a child has Tourette syndrome, the tics usually start when he or she is between 3 and 10 years of age. The movements and sounds come and go, and usually they aren't a severe problem. Keep in mind that your child may have a tic but not have Tourette syndrome. Talk to your family doctor if you think your child may have Tourette syndrome.
On TV, in movies and in the news, Tourette syndrome is often associated with cursing, or making offensive sexual or racist comments. However, only a small percentage of people who have Tourette syndrome have this symptom.
Most tics go away after a few months. However, sometimes a person will have 1 or 2 tics for many years. Children who have Tourette syndrome usually have their worst symptoms when they are between 9 and 13 years of age. Over half of these children get much better during the teen years and in early adulthood. Less than half of the people who have Tourette syndrome as children have moderate to severe tics as adults.
Learn about tics and Tourette syndrome and explain them to people who regularly interact with your child, such as relatives, teachers and day care providers.
Understand that your child has very little control over tics caused by Tourette syndrome. If you focus too much on the tics, they may get worse. In most cases, it's not helpful to encourage your child to try to stop a tic. Your child can hold back tics for a little while, but eventually the tics will come out.
Many children who have Tourette syndrome also have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (also called ADHD). Children who have Tourette syndrome may also have learning disabilities or obsessive-compulsive disorder (thoughts or behaviors that are repeated over and over). Your doctor can help you find out if your child has any of these other conditions.
Tics may affect more than 1 person in a family. Tics and Tourette syndrome should be considered as a possible cause if a child with a family member who has Tourette syndrome has learning or behavior problems.
Many children won't need treatment, but some may if their tics get in the way of their daily lives. Medicines are available that can help these children.
No one medicine can take care of all the symptoms of Tourette syndrome completely. However, medicines are available to help reduce specific symptoms. Like most medicines, the medicines used to treat Tourette syndrome may cause side effects.
Recognition and Management of Tourette's Syndrome and Tic Disorders by MM Bagheri, J Kerbeshian, L Burd (American Family Physician April 15, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990415ap/2263.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff