How do medications treat Tourette syndrome?

Different medications are used to treat different symptoms of Tourette syndrome. Mild sedatives can help control less severe tics, and Botox, a type of toxin, can be injected into the muscles that cause some muscle and vocal tics. Drugs normally used to treat high blood pressure can be useful in controlling impulsive and behavioral problems that result from Tourette syndrome, too. Anti-psychotic drugs have been shown effective in treating more severe symptoms.

Medications can be used to reduce severe or disruptive tics of Tourette syndrome (TS) that might have led to problems in the past with family and friends, other students or coworkers. Medications also can be used to reduce symptoms of related conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Medications do not eliminate tics completely, but they may help some people with TS in their everyday lives.

When deciding the best treatment, a doctor might try different medications and doses, and it may take time to find the treatment plan that works best. As with all medications, those used to treat tics can have side effects, which include weight gain, stiff muscles, tiredness, restlessness and social withdrawal. The side effects need to be considered carefully when deciding whether or not to use any medication to treat tics (in some cases, the side effects can be worse than the tics).

Even though medications often are used to treat the symptoms of TS, they might not be helpful for everyone. Two common reasons for not using medications to treat TS are unpleasant side effects and failure of the medications to work as well as expected. 

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