Tourette disorder (TD) is a neurological disorder. It is also called Tourette syndrome (TS). The disorder causes repeated tics. Tics are sudden, uncontrolled vocal sounds or muscle jerks. Symptoms of TD often begin between ages 5 and 10. They usually start with mild, simple tics of the face, head, or arms. Over time, a child may have different kinds of tics that may happen more often. They may also involve more parts of the body, such as the trunk (torso) or legs. And they may be more disruptive to daily life.
Most cases of Tourette disorder are caused by genes. It is an autosomal dominant disorder. Autosomal means that both boys and girls are affected. Dominant means that only 1 copy of the gene is needed to have the condition. A parent with TD or the gene for TD has a 1 in 2 chance to pass the gene on to each child.
In up to 1 in 20 children with TD, the disorder is not caused by genes. Possible causes in these cases may be problems during pregnancy, low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
TD affects more boys than girls.
The most common symptoms are uncontrolled muscle movements. They may occur in the face, neck, shoulders, torso, or hands. Examples include:
Complex tics include:
TD also includes one or more vocal tics such as:
Tic behaviors change over time. They also vary in how often they occur.
TD can occur differently in boys and girls. Boys are more likely to have long-term (chronic) tics. Girls are more likely to have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is an anxiety disorder. With OCD, a child has a repeated thought, fear, or worry (obsession) that he or she tries to manage through a certain behavior (compulsion) to reduce the anxiety.
Not everyone with the gene will have symptoms of Tourette disorder. If a parent passes the gene to a child, the child may not have any symptoms. If a daughter inherits the gene, there is a 7 in 10 chance that she will have at least one sign of TD. If a son inherits the gene, there is an almost sure chance (99%) chance that he will have at least one sign of TD.
The symptoms of TD can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child with TD is usually diagnosed around the age of 7. A primary care provider, pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or a mental healthcare provider may diagnose your child. The healthcare provider will ask about:
The healthcare provider will also:
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Some children may not need treatment. A child with TD can usually function well at home and in a regular classroom.
In some cases, a child may need special classes, psychotherapy, or medicine. These may be choices if:
A treatment called comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics can help children deal with tics and reduce tics.
Your child may need medicines if he or she has related conditions such as ADHD, OCD, or a mood disorder. Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
Many children who have TD also have attention problems. Some have trouble in school. But most have normal intelligence and don’t have a learning disability.
Other conditions commonly seen in children with TD include behavior problems, mood changes, social challenges, and trouble sleeping.
Your healthcare provider may advise genetic counseling. You can discuss with a counselor the risk for Tourette disorder in a future pregnancy.
Your child may need support and help with:
Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about the best ways to support your child.
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Article Last Updated: November 12, 2019
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