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Tourette Syndrome

Medically reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD

What Is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a condition that affects a person's central nervous system and causes tics. Tics are movements or sounds that a person can't control and that they repeat over and over.

Tics are kind of like hiccups. You don't plan them, and you don't want them. Sometimes, a kid might be able to hold back a tic for a short time. But tension builds, and eventually the kid must let the tic out.

What Are the Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome?

People with Tourette syndrome have two kinds of tics — motor tics and vocal tics.

  • Motor tics are twitches or movements a person makes but can't control. They include eye blinking, head shaking, jerking of the arms, and shrugging.
  • Vocal tics are sounds a person makes but can't control. They can include throat clearing, grunting, and coughing.

A person with Tourette syndrome sometimes has more than one type of tic happening at once. Tics can happen throughout the day. But they often happen less or go away completely when a person is concentrating (like working on a computer) or relaxing (like listening to music).

The type of tics and how often they happen often change over time. They're usually worse when a person is under stress (like when studying for a big test) or excited or very energized about something (like at a birthday party or a sports activity).

Sometimes a person with Tourette syndrome might have other conditions, like ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or trouble learning.

How Is Tourette Syndrome Treated?

To have Tourette syndrome, a person must have at least two motor tics and one vocal tic. The person has to have the tics every day or off and on for over a year — and they have to start before the person turns 18.

There's no cure for Tourette syndrome, but most of the time no treatment is needed. A kid can deal with the tics and still do normal stuff, like go to school and play with friends. If tics are making it hard to do normal stuff, a doctor may suggest medicine.

Stress or being upset can make the tics worse, and kids might feel upset because of the tics and the problems that go with them. Talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist can help. A therapist can teach coping and relaxation skills, and help kids learn how to explain tics to others. They can also help kids with other problems that can be connected to Tourette syndrome, like ADHD and anxiety.

How Should I Act Around Someone Who Has It?

Kids who have Tourette syndrome want to be treated like everybody else. They can do regular stuff, just like other kids.

Many kids with Tourette syndrome get better as they get older. Some people will always live with Tourette syndrome, but they can enjoy themselves and pursue their dreams and goals just as their friends do.

Medically reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD
Date reviewed: June 2020