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What Is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is an illness of the nervous system in which parts of the body move or twitch without control. In these movements, called tics, a part of the body moves repeatedly, quickly, suddenly, and uncontrollably. Tics can occur in any body part (face, hands, or legs). People can voluntarily stop them for brief periods. Some people also make abnormal sounds called vocal tics. Rarely, they will curse or say bad things to other people. As with body tics, people cannot control what they say. Sometimes, tics occur often, are severe, and can affect a person’s life.

Children and adults can have the syndrome, but it usually starts between the ages of 5 and 15. Many tics may go away as a child gets older.

What Causes Tourette’s Syndrome?

The cause is unknown, but it may be inherited with other nervous system problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome?

Symptoms are usually mild and hardly noticeable but can be severe. Symptoms often come and go and may go away for a long time. Sometimes old tics go away and new tics appear. Symptoms include barking, behavior problems, blinking, cursing, grunting, head nodding or bobbing, imitating actions or words of others, licking or smacking the lips, shoulder shrugging, sniffing, snorting, spitting, and yelping.

How Is Tourette’s Syndrome Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. The health care provider will ask a child to sit very still to see whether a tic appears. A pediatric neurologist may confirm the illness. A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in nervous system problems. The neurologist may want electroencephalography (EEG), a test that measures brain waves. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head may also be done to rule out other disorders that can cause abnormal body movements.

Children may be disruptive in school and have behavior problems. They may see a psychiatrist or psychologist (specialists in behavior problems). Tourette’s syndrome is associated with a variety of behavioral symptoms, most often attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

How Is Tourette’s Syndrome Treated?

Medicines called neuroleptics can help control tics. Medicine is usually not needed for mild tics. They may be prescribed separately or with other medicines to prevent their side effects.

The whole family may also go for counseling to help a child and family cope with the disorder.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Tourette’s Syndrome:

  • DO tell your health care provider about your medical problems and medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and have Tourette’s syndrome.
  • DO become informed about support groups and other resources.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have trouble with your medicines.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms get much worse.
  • DO call your health care provider if you need help or resources to teach others about the syndrome.
  • DO call your child’s health care provider if your child has fever, stiffness, or behavior changes while taking medicine for Tourette’s syndrome.
  • DON’T stop your medicine or change the dosage because you feel better unless your health care provider says to.
  • DON’T punish your child for saying bad words. Remember, tics cannot be controlled even with medications.
  • DON’T drink alcohol if you take medicine for Tourette’s syndrome.

Contact the following sources:

  • Tourette Syndrome Association
    Tel: (718) 224-2999

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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