What is Tourette syndrome?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. The disorder is named after Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the pioneering French neurologist who, in 1885, first described the condition in an 86-year-old French noblewoman.

The early symptoms of TS are almost always noticed first in childhood, with the average onset between the ages of seven and ten years. TS occurs in people from all ethnic groups; with males being affected about three to four times more often than females. An estimated 200,000 Americans have the most severe form of TS, and as many as one in 100 exhibit milder and less complex symptoms, such as chronic motor or vocal tics or transient tics of childhood. Although TS can be a chronic condition with symptoms lasting a lifetime, most people with the condition experience their worst symptoms in their early teens, with improvement occurring in the late teens and continuing into adulthood.

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

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence. It is part of the spectrum of tic disorders and is characterized by motor and vocal tics. Tourette symptoms can be influenced by other factors like school, medication, sleep habits and family dynamics. Because of this, no two children with Tourette syndrome are alike. Research has shown that more than 85 percent of people with Tourette disorder also have at least one mental health condition, like attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, anxiety disorders and others.

Tourette syndrome is a neurobiological disorder. It causes a combination of tics and involuntary vocal outbursts, such as laughter. Psychotherapy and medication can help minimize symptoms if necessary. Typically, people with this disorder don't need treatment unless their outbursts interrupt their daily activities.

Tourette syndrome is a disorder that affects about 1 in 100 people. People with Tourette's syndrome have frequently occurring muscle tics, like head jerking, blinking, and kicking, and verbal outbursts, such as swearing. It often starts in childhood but may be hard to diagnose because symptoms are milder in early life.

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a condition of the nervous system. TS causes people to have tics—sudden twitches, movements or sounds that people do repeatedly. People who have tics cannot stop their body from doing these things. For example, a person might keep blinking over and over again. Or, a person might make a grunting sound unwillingly. Having tics is a little bit like having hiccups. Even though you might not want to hiccup, your body does it anyway.

For a person to be diagnosed with Tourette syndrome (TS), he or she must:

  1. have both multiple motor tics (for example, blinking or shrugging the shoulders) and vocal tics (for example, humming, clearing the throat or yelling out a word or phrase), although they might not always happen at the same time.
  2. have had tics for at least a year. The tics can occur many times a day (usually in bouts) nearly every day, or off and on.
  3. have tics that begin before he or she is 18 years of age.
  4. have symptoms that are not due to taking medicine or other drugs or due to having another medical condition (for example, seizures, Huntington disease or postviral encephalitis).

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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.