What is Tourette syndrome?
Tourette syndrome is a movement disorder that starts in childhood. It causes a person to make repeated twitches, movements, or sounds that they have little or no control over. These are called tics. Several different tics can happen at the same time, but they may not always occur together.
On TV, in movies, and in the news, Tourette syndrome is often associated with cursing, or making offensive comments. However, only a small percentage of people who have Tourette syndrome have this symptom.
Symptoms of Tourette syndrome
The main symptom of Tourette syndrome is tics. 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. Examples of common tics include:
- throat clearing
- eye blinking
- shoulder shrugging
- arm jerking
Some tics are small and are not that noticeable. Others can be constant movements or sounds that can’t be controlled. Tics often get worse when a person feels stressed, tired, anxious, or excited. They can become better when a person is calm or focused on an activity. Usually they aren’t a severe problem.
If a child has Tourette syndrome, the tics usually start when he or she is between 5 and 10 years old. They often start with a tic in the head or neck area. Other tics may follow. The movements and sounds may change over time. Some tics go away after a few months. 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 old. After that time, the tics may fade in intensity or go away completely. Less than half of the people who have Tourette syndrome as children have moderate to severe tics as adults.
It is possible for your child to have a tic but not have Tourette syndrome. Talk to your family doctor if you think your child may have a tic or Tourette syndrome.
What causes Tourette syndrome?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes tics and Tourette syndrome. They do know that Tourette syndrome seems to run in families. It is more common in boys than in girls.
How is Tourette syndrome diagnosed?
There is no lab test to diagnose Tourette syndrome. Your child’s doctor may do an examination or run tests to rule out other causes of the symptoms. To be diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a person must:
- Have both motor (body movement) and vocal (involving the voice) tics. These don’t have to occur at the same time.
- Have tics that occur regularly or on and off for at least 1 year.
- Have begun having tics before the age of 18.
Can Tourette syndrome be prevented or avoided?
There is nothing you can do to prevent or avoid having tics or Tourette syndrome.
Tourette syndrome treatment
There is no cure for Tourette syndrome. But there are medicines that can help. In most cases, people with mild symptoms are not treated. The side effects of the medicines may be worse than the symptoms themselves. But if their tics get in the way of their daily lives, people can be treated with medicine. The type of medicine used depends on the symptoms and if the person has any other medical problems. Behavioral therapy may also help.
Living with Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome can affect all parts of a person’s life. This includes their health, education, employment, and relationships. It also has an effect on their physical, mental, and emotional well being.
Many children with Tourette syndrome have other conditions, as well. These include:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (thoughts or behaviors that are repeated over and over).
- Other behavioral or conduct problems.
Your doctor can help you find out if your child has any of these other conditions.
It is important to diagnose Tourette syndrome as early as possible. This will help make sure your child gets the right treatment and support so they can lead productive and healthy lives.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How can I help my child fit in at school and around other kids?
- Is there a medicine that could help my child?
- Could my child also have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
- Are there other therapies that could help my child?
- Will my child have problems when he/she starts school?
- Are there any materials you could share with me that I could give to my child’s teacher/daycare provider?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.