Tourette syndrome (TS) is a type of tic disorder. Tics are sudden muscle movements or vocal sounds that can range from mild to severe in how disrupting they are. TS, a neurological condition, is usually diagnosed during childhood.
TS may be a genetic condition, passed from parents to children. This is still being studied. TS may also be linked to problems with dopamine levels, a chemical in the brain that sends signals to neurons.
TS may be inherited through genes, which make up DNA.
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Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can occur suddenly, and the length of time they last can vary. Tics may temporarily decrease with concentration or distraction. During times of stress, they may occur more often.
Tics can be muscle movements (motor tics) or vocal sounds (vocal tics). They can also be characterized as simple or complex. Here are some common examples:
- Simple—eye blinking, facial grimacing, head jerking, arm or leg thrusting
- Complex—jumping, smelling, touching things or other people, twirling around
- Simple—throat clearing, coughing, sniffing, grunting, yelping, barking
- Complex—saying words or phrases that do not make sense in a given situation, saying obscene or socially unacceptable words (called coprolalia)
Your child may also have other related conditions, such as:
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. In some cases, the doctor may order imagining tests (eg,
PET scan) to rule out other disorders. These tests are usually not needed. Your child will probably be referred to a mental health expert. This person will evaluate your child.
Work with the doctor to create a treatment plan that is right for your child. Options include:
One important part of treatment is for the child and his family to learn about this syndrome. It is also helpful if the child’s teachers, classmates, and friends understand the condition.
Your child may also benefit from behavior therapy. This can include doing relaxation techniques and self-monitoring. A technique known as “habit reversal therapy” and other behavioral treatments have proven helpful for some children.
In most cases, medicine is not needed to treat TS. If tics are severe and disrupt your child’s life, medicines may be recommended to reduce symptoms. Your child may also need to take medicine to treat other conditions, like ADHD. If medicine is ineffective or otherwise not right for your child, several experimental non-drug treatments have shown promise. Among these are magnetic brain stimulation and—for very severely affected children—deep brain stimulation.
There is no known way to prevent TS.
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Last reviewed March 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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