Tourette's Disorder

Children with Tourette’s disorder make sounds or 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 his or her throat. In rare cases, a child uses bad words or gestures.

Tics usually begin between ages 2 and 8. They are often worst around age 12. Tics may go away on their own within a year. In some children, tics may become chronic, which means they last longer than a year.

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

Tourette's disorder is also known as Tourette's syndrome. It is more common in boys than in girls. Tics can last into adulthood. But in most children they slowly go away in the teen years.

Symptoms

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:

  • Eye blinking and eye rolling.
  • Jerking of the neck.
  • Coughing or throat-clearing.
  • A mix of movements and sounds.

It's common for a person who has TS to feel an urge in some part of the body that builds and builds. This urge can only be relieved by performing the tic. But not everyone with the disorder is aware of these urges.

Diagnosis

How is Tourette syndrome (TS) diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose TS based on your child's medical history and symptoms. The doctor may want to know if tics are causing school or social problems for your child.

There are no tests to diagnose TS. But in some cases an electroencephalogram (EEG), an MRI, or blood tests may be done to check for other health problems. Your doctor may also check for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or other learning or behavior problems. These problems sometimes occur along with TS.

Treatment

How is Tourette syndrome (TS) treated?

Treatment for TS focuses on helping your child cope with the tics. Understanding how tics affect your child can help you and your child know what to expect. It may help to identify when tics occur. Then you can try to avoid things that cause tics.

Some children do not need treatment. But if tics are seriously affecting your child's quality of life at home or school, then counseling, behavioral therapy to reduce tics (habit reversal), and medicines may help. If your child has other medical problems, these may need to be treated first to see how they affect your child's symptoms.

TD in children

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.

Triggers

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.

When to call

Tourette syndrome (TS) in children: When to call

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.

If you or your child talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

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.

Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.