Tourette syndrome (TS) is a chronic disorder of the nervous system. It is a type of tic disorder, with motor and vocal tics. These tics are rapid, involuntary movements or sounds that occur repeatedly.
Many people with TS also have one or more of the following problems:
- Compulsions and ritualistic behaviors
- Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD or ADHD)
- Learning disabilities
- Difficulties with impulse control
- Sleep disorders
The exact cause of TS is unknown. However brain chemicals, called dopamine and serotonin, are most likely involved.
There may be a genetic link to TS, although some have no known family history.
Males are 3-4 times more likely to be affected. Other factors that may increase your chance of TS include:
- Family history of TS
- Having other tic disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Maternal stress during pregnancy
- Daily use of coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol by the mother before pregnancy
Tics are the main symptoms of TS. To be TS, the tics must be involuntary and:
- Both motor and vocal tics
- Be present for more than 1 year
- Start before age 18
- Not absent at any time for more than 3 months
- Not be due to a physiological cause like substances or a medical condition
Tics will usually happen daily, range from mild-to-severe and change in type over time. They can occur suddenly and vary in the amount of time that they last. Tics may temporarily decrease with concentration or distraction. During times of stress and tension, they may occur more often.
Tics are divided into motor and vocal. The following are some common examples:
- Simple—eye blinking, head jerking, arm or shoulder shrugging
- 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
While tics may occur throughout life, but symptoms may improve during later teen years.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
The diagnosis of TS is usually made by the symptoms alone. Your doctor may order tests to rule out other medical conditions as the cause of the tics.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Education and therapy are usually parts of the treatment plan. In some cases, medications may be needed.
Education and Therapy
Learning about TS is a very important part of treatment. Education can also be helpful for your family, friends, and coworkers.
Therapy can also help you develop habits to help manage tics or other related symptoms. Types of therapy include:
- Behavior therapy can help people with TS learn to substitute their tics with other movements or sounds that are more acceptable.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can help reduce obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
- Psychotherapy can help people with TS and their families cope with the disorder.
In addition, relaxation, biofeedback, and exercise can reduce help to reduce stress.
Medication is not required in most cases. No medication works in all people with TS. If a doctor prescribes medication, there are usually strong side effects.
Medications that may be prescribed include:
- Clonidine—usually the first medication tried to control tics, but may not be effective
- Antipsychotics—to help control tics
- Antidepressants—to manage related obsessive-compulsive habits
- Stimulants or medication used to treat high blood pressure—to manage symtoms related to ADD and ADHD
There are no current guidelines to prevent TS.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Tourette Syndrome Association
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada
NINDS tourette syndrome information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tourette/tourette.htm. Updated October 19, 2012. Accessed April 3, 2013.
Tourette syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 3, 2012. April 3, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Rimas Lukas, 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.