What is Tourette’s syndrome?
Tourette’s syndrome is a problem with the nervous system that causes people to make sudden movements or sounds, called tics, that they can’t control. For example, someone with Tourette’s might blink or clear their throat over and over again. Some people may blurt out words they don’t intend to say.
How common is Tourette’s syndrome?
Tourette’s syndrome afflicts three out of every 1,000 children between ages 6 and 17 in the United States, the CDC says in its first-ever estimate of the prevalence of the neurological disorder. According to the MMWR study, Tourette’s syndrome is three times more common in boys than in girls, and about twice as common in children 12 to 17 as in those 6 to 11. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome?
The main symptom is tics. Some are so mild they’re not even noticeable. Others happen often and are obvious. Stress, excitement, or being sick or tired can make them worse. The more severe ones can be embarrassing and can affect your social life or work.
There are two types of tics:
Motor tics involve movement. They include:
- Arm or head jerking
- Making a face
- Mouth twitching
- Shoulder shrugging
Vocal tics include:
- Barking or yelping
- Clearing your throat
- Repeating what someone else says
Tics can be simple or complex. A simple tic affects one or just a few parts of the body, like blinking the eyes or making a face.
A complex one involves many parts of the body or saying words. Jumping and swearing are examples.
Before a motor tic, you may get a sensation that can feel like a tingle or tension. The movement makes the sensation go away. You might be able to hold your tics back for a little while, but you probably can’t stop them from happening.
Doctors aren’t sure why, but about half of people with Tourette’s also have symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You may have trouble paying attention, sitting still, and finishing tasks.
Tourette’s can also cause problems with:
- Learning disabilities such as dyslexia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — thoughts and behaviors you can’t control, like washing your hands over and over again
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
See your child’s pediatrician if you notice your child displaying involuntary movements or sounds.
Not all tics indicate Tourette syndrome. Many children develop tics that go away on their own after a few weeks or months. But whenever a child shows unusual behavior, it’s important to identify the cause and rule out serious health problems.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Tourette’s syndrome?
Tourette’s has been linked to different parts of the brain, including an area called the basal ganglia, which helps control body movements. Differences there may affect nerve cells and the chemicals that carry messages between them. Researchers think the trouble in this brain network may play a role in Tourette’s.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes these problems in the brain, but genes probably play a role. It’s likely that there is more than one cause.
People who have family members with Tourette’s are more likely to get it themselves. But people in the same family may have different symptoms.
What increases my risk for Tourette’s syndrome?
There are many risk factors for Tourette’s syndrome, such as:
- Family history.Having a family history of Tourette syndrome or other tic disorders might increase the risk of developing Tourette syndrome.
- Sex. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Tourette’s syndrome diagnosed?
If you or your child has symptoms of Tourette’s, your doctor may want you to see a neurologist, a specialist who treats diseases of the nervous system. There aren’t any tests for the condition, but he’ll ask you questions, like:
- What did you notice that brought you here today?
- Do you often move your body in a way you can’t control? How long has that been happening?
- Do you ever say things or make sounds without meaning to? When did it start?
- Does anything make your symptoms better? What makes them worse?
- Do you feel anxious or have trouble focusing?
- Does anyone else in your family have these kinds of symptoms?
Your doctor may do imaging tests of your brain to rule out other conditions that have symptoms like those of Tourette’s. They might include:
- It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body.
- CT scan. It’s a powerful X-ray that makes detailed images of your insides.
How is Tourette’s syndrome treated?
Many times, tics are mild and don’t need to be treated. If they become a problem, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help them. It can take a while to find the right dose that helps control tics but avoids side effects, so be patient as you and your doctor work through it.
Medications can include:
- Haloperidol (Haldol), fluphenazine (Prolixin), and pimozide (Orap), which work on a brain chemical called dopamine to control tics.
- Clonidine (Catapres) and guanfacine (Tenex, Intuniv)), high blood pressure drugs that can also treat tics.
- Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and other antidepressants, which can relieve anxiety, sadness, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
Along with medicine, you may want to consider talk therapy. A psychologist or counselor can help you learn how to deal with the social issues your tics and other symptoms may cause.
Behavior therapy may also help. A specific kind, called habit-reversal training, teaches you how to recognize that a tic is coming and then move in a way that stops it.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Tourette’s syndrome?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Tourette’s syndrome:
- Get support. Your family, friends, health care team, or a support group can help you meet the challenges of Tourette’s.
- Stay active.Play sports, paint, or volunteer. These activities will take your mind off your symptoms.
- Relax. Read a book, listen to music, meditate, or do yoga. Low-key activities you enjoy can combat the stress that can lead to tics.
- Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your condition so you’ll know what to do when you have symptoms.
If your child has Tourette’s, talk to his school about it. You can give staff the facts about the condition and see what kind of support they can give him, like extra tutoring or smaller classes.
Fitting in socially also can be hard for a child with the disease. Help him practice ways to handle teasing or comments from other kids.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Tourette’s Syndrome. http://www.webmd.com/brain/tourettes-syndrome#1. Accessed July 4, 2017.
Tourette syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tourette-syndrome/home/ovc-20163623. Accessed July 4, 2017.
How Common Is Tourette’s Syndrome? http://www.webmd.com/children/news/20090604/how-common-is-tourette-syndrome. Accessed July 4, 2017.
Review Date: July 7, 2017 | Last Modified: July 7, 2017