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Tourette's Syndrome

What is Tourette's syndrome?

Tourette's syndrome (TS) is disorder that causes both motor and vocal tics. Motor tics are brief, rapid, usually repetitive movements of the face, hands, or legs. Vocal tics can be words, throat clearing, or other sounds that are made involuntarily. If tics are severe, or happen often, they can affect many areas of a child's life.

How does it occur?

We do not know the causes of Tourette's syndrome. TS runs in families. TS may also be related to low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, strep infections, some stimulant medicines, or brain diseases.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • eye twitches or eye blinks
  • facial grimaces
  • head jerks
  • jumping
  • making gestures or sexual touching
  • grunting, throat clearing, or sniffling
  • saying words or yelping.

A child may suffer from a single tic or have many 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 compulsions such as checking, counting, or repeating words.

How is it diagnosed?

Many school aged children develop a short-term tic at some time. However, to be diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, your child must have both motor and verbal tics for more than 12 months.

Your health care provider will examine your child, observe symptoms, and ask about medical and family history. Your child may have an EEG, MRI, CAT scan, or blood tests to rule out other conditions that might be confused with TS.

How is it treated?

In mild cases of tic disorder, very little treatment may be needed. Typically, tics increase when the child is tense or stressed, and decrease when the child is relaxed or focused on an absorbing task. The use of relaxation techniques or biofeedback may help the child deal with stress.

Although some milder tic disorders may respond to behavioral therapies, Tourette's Syndrome generally does not. The best form of treatment is medicine.

How long will the effects last?

Tourette's syndrome is usually lifelong, though symptoms may improve for weeks or even years. In most cases, the symptoms decrease by adulthood.

What can I do to help my child?

Never punish or shame a child for tic behaviors. Children cannot stop their tic behaviors because they are involuntary. Telling the 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's. If your child's symptoms are seriously interfering with his or her daily life, seek help from your health care provider or a mental health professional. If your child is diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome notify your child's teacher. The school may be able to provide some additional support.

For more information, contact:

The Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc.
42-40 Bell Boulevard
Bayside, NY 11361-2861
(718) 224-2999
Web site:

Written by Lesley Stabinsky Compton, PhD.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2005-05-03
Last reviewed: 2006-01-18
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.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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