What are the symptoms of Tourette syndrome?

Symptoms of Tourette syndrome can be fairly mild or quite severe. People with Tourette syndrome may have simple muscle tics, like repeatedly blinking or jerking their heads, or more complex tics, like hitting or flapping their arms. Vocal tics are common, too. Simple vocal tics like yelling or grunting can eventually lead to more complex tics like repeating words and involuntary swearing. Most people with Tourette are unable to control the impulse to do a tic. Giving into a tic, however, only briefly relieves their tension.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner
The most prominent symptoms of Tourette syndrome (TS) are tics. Tics can be classified as either simple or complex. Simple motor tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements that involve a limited number of muscle groups. Some of the more common simple tics include eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking. Simple vocalizations might include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting sounds. Complex tics are distinct, coordinated patterns of movements involving several muscle groups. Complex motor tics might include facial grimacing combined with a head twist and a shoulder shrug. Other complex motor tics may actually appear purposeful, including sniffing or touching objects, hopping, jumping, bending, or twisting. Complex vocal tics include words or phrases. Perhaps the most dramatic and disabling tics include motor movements that result in self-harm, such as punching oneself in the face or vocal tics including coprolalia (uttering socially inappropriate words such as swearing) or echolalia (repeating the words or phrases of others). However, coprolalia is only present in a small number (10 to 15 percent) of individuals with TS. Some tics are preceded by an urge or sensation in the affected muscle group, commonly called a premonitory urge. Some with TS will describe a need to complete a tic in a certain way or a certain number of times in order to relieve the urge or decrease the sensation.

Tics are often worse with excitement or anxiety and better during calm, focused activities. Certain physical experiences can trigger or worsen tics -- for example, tight collars may trigger neck tics, or hearing another person sniff or throat-clear may trigger similar sounds. Tics do not go away during sleep but are often significantly diminished.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The main symptoms of Tourette syndrome (TS) are tics. Symptoms usually begin when a child is 5 to 10 years of age. Often, the first symptoms are motor tics that occur in the head and neck area. Tics usually are worse during times that are stressful or exciting. They tend to improve when a person is calm or focused on an activity. The types of tics and how often a person has tics changes a lot over time. Even though the symptoms might appear, disappear and reappear, these conditions are considered chronic. In most cases, tics decrease during adolescence and early adulthood, and sometimes disappear entirely. However, many people with TS experience tics into adulthood and, in some cases, tics can become worse during adulthood. Although the media often portray people with TS as involuntarily shouting out swear words (coprolalia) or constantly repeating the words of other people (echolalia), these symptoms are rare, and are not required for a diagnosis of TS.

Continue Learning about Brain and Nervous System

Head Injuries Are More Serious Than You Think
Head Injuries Are More Serious Than You Think
It's becoming clear that the rough-and-tumble nature of football—with blows to the head week in and week out—can be hard on the buttery-soft brain. Bu...
Read More
What does a vascular neurologist do?
Dr. Christopher M. Goshgarian, MDDr. Christopher M. Goshgarian, MD
Vascular neurologists treat vascular issues that involve the central nervous system, such as stroke,...
More Answers
What is Tourette syndrome?
Overland Park Regional Medical CenterOverland Park Regional Medical Center
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that becomes evident in early childhood or a...
More Answers
How Has Our Understanding of the Human Brain Changed Over the Years?
How Has Our Understanding of the Human Brain Changed Over the Years?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.