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What Is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder. Tourette syndrome causes unwanted repetitive movements or sounds called tics. TS is more common in males than females.

Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome

Tourette symptoms start in childhood. Tics usually start between the ages of 2-15. 

Tourette Syndrome Tics

There are two types of tics associated with Tourette syndrome:

  • Motor tics

  • Vocal tics

Motor tics and vocal tics fall into two categories:

  • Simple tics

  • Complex tics

Simple tics are sudden, brief movements. They involve a small number of muscle groups. Simple tics are more common than complex tics. Complex tics are distinct, coordinated movements.

Types of Tourette Tic Symptoms

Simple Motor Tics

  • Eye blinking

  • Facial grimacing

  • Shoulder shrugging

  • Head jerking

Complex Motor Tics

  • Hopping

  • Twisting and/or bending

  • Touching or smelling objects

  • Repeating observed movements

Simple Vocal Tics

  • Coughing
  • Throat clearing
  • Sniffing
  • Barking

Complex Vocal Tics

  • Repeating the words or phrases of others
  • Using obscene, vulgar, or swearwords
  • Repeating your own words or phrases

What Causes Tourette Syndrome?

The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown. TS is a complex tic disorder that may be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Research suggests abnormalities in different parts of the brain might play a role in TS. Neurotransmitters may also have something to do with Tourette syndrome. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send out messages in your brain.

How is Tourette Syndrome Diagnosed?

Your Tourette specialist will discuss your history of tics with you. They will make a diagnosis based on information provided as well as by observing your tics in clinic. Tourette syndrome is usually diagnosed if you have several common symptoms:

  • Your tics started in childhood.

  • You have had tics longer than one year.

  • You experience both motor and vocal tics.

  • The severity of your tics changes over time. This means having periods of improvement and periods of worsening in your tics.

  • Your tics are not caused by another neurological disorder.

Tourette Syndrome Treatment

There is no cure for Tourette syndrome. Treatment focuses on reducing the severity of your tics so that they do not impact your day to day life. If your tics do not impact your daily activities, treatment may not be necessary.

There are several options available to help control and improve your tics:

  • Comprehensive behavioral treatment for tics (CBIT)

  • Oral medications

  • Botulinum toxin injections can be tried for certain localized tics

  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is sometimes considered for severe cases that do not respond to other treatments. DBS is still an investigational treatment for Tourette syndrome. It has not been proven to be effective yet and is currently not approved by the FDA to treat TS.

 Many patients with Tourette syndrome experience additional neurobehavioral problems:

Sometimes these neurobehavioral problems are more bothersome than the tics themselves. If any of these problems are affecting you, talk to your doctor about treating them.

Living With Tourette Syndrome

Tics are thought to follow the rule of thirds as patients grow into adulthood. A third of people with Tourette syndrome see their tics resolve. A third of people see improvements in their tics. A third of patients with Tourette syndrome continue to experience tics into adulthood.

Additional Support

Because Tourette syndrome causes noticeable symptoms, it can be a source of emotional distress.

Find ways to advocate for your loved one with Tourette syndrome:

  • Support them during periods of low self-esteem or distress.

  • Raise awareness of their condition with teachers, coworkers, and friends.

Find a Tourette Specialist

Schedule an Appointment With our Neurologists

You'll need a referral from your primary care provider to see a neurologist in our Movement Disorders Clinic. Call 801-585-7575 to learn how to make an appointment with us.

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