What is tourette syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome (TS) in children: Overview

Children with Tourette syndrome (TS) make sounds and movements that they can't control. These are called tics.

Some children blink their eyes a lot or twitch their nose. Others move their arms or legs a lot or stamp their feet. A child with verbal tics may grunt, shout, or clear their throat. In rare cases, a child uses bad words or gestures.

Tics usually begin in early childhood. They are often worst around age 12. As your child ages, the pattern of tics can change.

Tics can last into adulthood. But in most children they slowly go away in the teen years.

Tourette syndrome (TS)

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a condition in which a person has spasms, also called tics, that typically include blinking, frowning, jerking the head, and raising the arms or shoulders. A person may also make sounds, such as sniffing, throat clearing, or coughing, or say words.

Symptoms of TS first develop during childhood and become most severe at about age 12. In most children, tics become less severe or go away completely in the teen years. But tics can continue into adulthood.

Treatment for TS focuses on managing tics. Most cases of TS are mild and will not require medical treatment. If the tics are severe, habit reversal training or medicine is considered. The tics can be reduced, but there is no cure for TS at this time.

TS is more common in boys than in girls.

What happens when your child has Tourette syndrome (TS)?

As your child ages, the pattern of tics can change. Tics may come and go over weeks and months. They may also change from one kind to another. Tics may get worse and then get better. Your child may get a new tic, or an old one may come back.

Tics may get worse for no reason. Your child may try to suppress tics, which may make them last longer or be worse than at other times. They may also get worse when your child is ill, under stress, or excited.

Having TS doesn't have to mean that your child will have social problems or trouble in school. You can help your child learn to cope with tics. Start by learning more about TS and being supportive at home. Work with your child's teachers so they can understand how tics affect your child.

Despite what you might have seen in movies or on TV, most people with TS don't have uncontrollable outbursts of cursing or sexual behavior.

What are the symptoms of Tourette syndrome (TS)?

Most children with TS have different patterns of tics. The tics may not be obvious. They can be bursts of movement or sounds that last for seconds or minutes. Tics can include a slight twitching of the eyes, jerking of the neck, or coughing or throat clearing.

How is Tourette syndrome (TS) treated?

Treatment for TS focuses on helping your child cope with the tics. It may help to identify when tics occur. Then you can try to avoid things that cause tics. If tics are seriously affecting your child's life, then counseling, behavioral therapy to reduce tics (habit reversal), and medicines may help.

How is Tourette syndrome (TS) diagnosed?

TS is diagnosed based on your child's medical history and symptoms. Your doctor may ask if the tics affect your child's quality of life. There are no tests to diagnose TS. The doctor may check for other health conditions that can occur along with TS.

How can you care for your child who has Tourette syndrome (TS)?

  • Learn about TS. Share what you learn with your child's teachers and people who spend a lot of time with your child.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Make sure your child goes to all counseling sessions and follow-up appointments.
  • Do any homework or exercises that your child's therapist gives you.
  • Write down when the tics happen. Try to identify what might cause them. If you do this, you may be able to help your child avoid things that cause tics.
  • Make changes at home. For example, don't treat tics as bad behavior. Give your child free time after tasks or chores. When tics are bad, stay calm and help your child relax.
  • Ask your child's teachers to make changes. For example, your child may need more time to take tests. Or it may help if your child sits in a more private place with few distractions. It might also help if your child can rest when needed or leave the classroom to deal with severe tics.

What causes Tourette syndrome (TS)?

The exact cause of TS is unknown. It tends to run in families. And it is more common in boys than in girls.

What is Tourette syndrome (TS)?

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a brain condition that starts in childhood. Children with TS make sounds or movements that they can't control. These are called tics. Tics usually start in early childhood. They may be at their worst by age 12. Tics tend to decrease during teenage years. Sometimes they go away by adulthood.

Tourette syndrome (TS) in children: When to call

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a severe mood change or is talking about suicide.
  • Your child has a sudden change in behavior.
  • It is hard to take care of yourself or your child.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has symptoms that often get in the way of daily activities.
  • Your child has new or different symptoms.

Tourette syndrome (TS): What triggers can affect your child's tics?

Your child's tics related to Tourette syndrome may seem worse in certain situations or during times when your child experiences strong emotions. Common triggers include:

  • Stressful events, such as a family fight or poor performance at school.
  • Boredom, physical illness, or fatigue.
  • Anger or excitement. Difficulties with other kids can make your child angry or frustrated. Or your child may get flustered when eager for a fun event, such as a birthday party or vacation.

Your child's tics may decrease or be less severe when your child:

  • Gets enough sleep.
  • Becomes involved in new activities that are of great interest. Tics may improve while your child is focused on an activity as long as there is not a lot of surrounding stress or agitation from being overexcited.

Remember that tics related to TS also sometimes increase or decrease for no obvious reason.

Your child may also be able to hold back, or suppress, tics for a short time. Children may do this when they:

  • Are in a new place, such as at a new friend's house.
  • Are in a new situation, such as having someone new over for dinner.
  • Know that someone is watching for tics, such as a doctor.

After holding back tics, most children will soon have a short period afterward when tics are noticeably worse.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.