Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
What is Tourette's disorder?
Tourette's disorder is a brain condition that starts in childhood. Children with Tourette's make sounds or movements–such as coughing or twitching–that they can't control. These are called tics.
Tics usually start at about age 2. They may be at their worst by age 12. Tics tend to decrease during teenage years. They can continue into adulthood but occur less often and are less severe than in childhood.
What causes it?
Tourette's tends to run in families. Other things that may increase the risk include:
- A mother who had severe nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of pregnancy, was under severe stress during her pregnancy, or who drank a lot of coffee, smoked cigarettes, or drank alcohol during her pregnancy.
- Not having enough oxygen or blood supply during birth.
- A low birth weight and signs of brain injury or an enlarged section of the brain.
- A lower birth weight than an identical twin.
What are the symptoms?
Most children with Tourette's 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.
- Coughing or throat-clearing.
- A mix of movements and sounds.
It's common for a person who has Tourette's 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.
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose Tourette's 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 Tourette's. 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 Tourette's disorder.
How is Tourette's disorder treated?
Treatment for Tourette's disorder 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 and what is going on in your child's life during those times.
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.
What happens when your child has this disorder?
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 Tourette's 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 Tourette's 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 Tourette's disorder don't have uncontrollable outbursts of cursing or sexual behavior.
Current as of: April 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.