Tourette's And Tic Disorder Research Articles & Resources

Ann Simmons
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Tourette's?

Tourette syndrome (TS), often referred to as Tourette’s, is a neurological disorder typically characterized by repetitive behaviors called tics. (1) These tics are involuntary, meaning the individual can’t control them, and may be exhibited as repetitive muscle movements (motor tics) or repetitive vocal sounds (vocal tics).
A tic may last several minutes, which can be unsettling for both the person experiencing the tic and for those nearby who may be unfamiliar with the source of the behaviors or noises. In the same way that it's difficult to stop a cough, hiccup, or sneeze when the urge hits, it's likewise nearly impossible to suppress a tic. Understanding this aspect of the condition can go a long way toward helping people diagnosed with Tourette's and their caregivers come to terms with the disorder.

It's also important to understand that not all tics are a symptom of Tourette's. Tourette's, which is named after Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the neurologist who published findings related to the condition in 1885, is just one form of a tic disorder. (3) Persistent/chronic motor or vocal tic disorder and provisional tic disorder share many of the same symptoms and treatment protocols as Tourette's, but there are some distinct differences as well. (4)

  • Tourette syndrome is a condition in which a person has experienced both motor and vocal tics for more than 1 year.
  • Chronic or persistent tic disorder is a condition where an individual experiences one or many motor or vocal tics, but not both types, for less than 1 year.
  • Provisional tic disorder means an individual has had single or multiple motor or vocal tics, but not both types, for more than 1 year.

Recent research suggests that an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S. and one in 50 children between five and 14 may have Tourette's or a chronic tic disorder. (5)

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What Is Tourette's? Tourette syndrome (TS), often referred to as Tourette’s, is a neurological disorder typically characterized by repetitive behaviors called tics. (1) These tics are involuntary, meaning the... Read More

What Causes Tourette's?

No one knows the exact cause of Tourette syndrome. Studies indicate the condition could be genetic, since Tourette's seems to run in families. But it's uncertain whether an individual with a genetic risk will develop tics, and if so, whether those tics will be mild or more severe. (6)
Other studies conducted by experts in epidemiology and neurophysiology point toward possible developmental and environmental causes for Tourette's. (7) However, those connections have yet to be proven.

There is some evidence that indicates males are more likely to have tics than females, suggesting gender may influence the development or prevalence of Tourette's as well. (8)

What Are the Symptoms of Tourette's?

Signs of Tourette syndrome can occur as early as age 2, but symptoms typically manifest between the ages of 7 and 10. (8) Symptoms of Tourette's include several types of uncontrollable movements and vocalizations. During an episode, individuals may experience one tic or what seems like sequences (patterns) of symptoms. Involuntary actions common in those with motor tic disorder include blinking eyes, head jerking, mouth movements, and shoulder shrugging. These are all simple tics. Symptoms can also be complex, such as twisting, hopping, and making obscene gestures. (9)
Vocal tic disorder symptoms involve sounds and may be simple or complex. Simple symptoms include barking, coughing, grunting, and clearing the throat. Repeating words and phrases, whether the person's own or what someone else has said, shouting obscenities, vulgar remarks, and swearing, are all symptoms of complex vocal tics. Anxiety, stress, or exhaustion can worsen Tourette's symptoms. (9)

Do I Have Tourette’s? How Is Tourette's Diagnosed?

There's no foolproof tic disorder test or lab test for Tourette's, but a clinician with knowledge of tic disorders can diagnose a patient by looking at standard criteria: (10)

  • A history of several motor tics and at least one vocal tic
  • Experiencing symptoms for at least 1 year, intermittently or almost daily
  • Symptoms beginning before age 21
  • Symptom fluctuation
  • Absence of triggering factors such as encephalitis, medication, seizure, or stroke 

Some tic disorders can mimic other conditions. For example, sniffling could be a symptom of allergies or a stuffy nose, and eye blinking is often a sign of vision problems. In those situations, a health care provider may order tests to rule out underlying physical issues that that may cause symptoms masquerading as motor and vocal tics. (10)

What Is the Best Treatment for Tourette’s?

Healthcare providers may recommend tic disorder treatment when the condition and its symptoms interfere with daily functioning. (11) Based on the severity of the condition, Tourette's treatment options may include:

  • Deep brain stimulation that uses an implanted, battery-operated device to stimulate the brain to control specific movements (12)
  • Prescription medications that lessen the effects of tics (13)
  • Behavior modification to help individuals become aware of the urge, focus on alternative behaviors, and adjust activities that may trigger tics (14)
  • Speech therapy for individuals who experience tics and co-occurring conditions, like a learning disability or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (15)

How to Cope With a Tourette's Diagnosis

After a Tourette syndrome or tic disorder diagnosis, learning more about the condition can help allay fears. Those unfamiliar with Tourette syndrome or tic disorder may respond negatively to a person with tics. Siblings and peers may not understand the condition; in some cases, bullying can be an issue for individuals with tics. (16)
Caregivers and loved ones can help by modeling positive behavior and communication for others to follow. This includes:

  • Not staring at someone who is in the midst of a tic
  • Being patient when a tic interrupts a conversion of activity
  • Avoiding pointing out new tics
  • Refraining from laughing or poking fun
  • Never mimicking tics

People with Tourette's and caregivers of children with the condition can find support, helpful information, and the latest research through the Tourette Association. The organization connects people with Tourette's and their loved ones with networks and professionals who can help, including healthcare providers, social workers, and therapists. (17)

How to Help Someone With Tourette's

Parents can benefit from education about the condition and how to advocate for their children. Staying connected with what is happening at school can help parents ensure a child gets the appropriate services and support. Some children with Tourette's may need accommodations during testing. Rather than writing, students may require access to computers to complete assignments. Counseling can help children with tics overcome self-esteem issues and develop ways to control tics. (18) Whether the person with tics is a child or adult, responding to Tourette's with practices that promote self-confidence can help them overcome obstacles the condition may bring.