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When Your Child Has Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a nervous system disorder. It's also called Tourette disorder (TD). The syndrome causes repeated tics. Tics are sudden, uncontrolled vocal sounds or muscle jerks. Symptoms of TS often start 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 torso or legs. And they may be more disruptive to daily life.

How to say it

ter-REHT

SIHN-drohm

What causes Tourette syndrome?

TS affects more boys than girls. Your healthcare provider may advise genetic counseling for any future pregnancy.

A specific gene has not been identified in the most cases. Possible causes in these cases may be:

  • Problems during pregnancy

  • Low birth weight

  • Head injury

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)

Symptoms of Tourette syndrome

The most common symptoms are uncontrolled muscle movements. They may occur in the face, neck, shoulders, torso, or hands. Examples include:

  • Head jerking

  • Squinting

  • Blinking

  • Shrugging

  • Grimacing

  • Nose-twitching

  • Repeated foot tapping, leg jerking, scratching, or other movements

Complex tics include:

  • Kissing

  • Pinching

  • Sticking out the tongue or lip-smacking

  • Touching behaviors

  • Making rude gestures

TS also includes one or more vocal tics such as:

  • Grunting or moaning sounds

  • Barking

  • Tongue clicking

  • Sniffing

  • Hooting

  • Saying rude things

  • Throat clearing, snorting, or coughing

  • Squeaking noises

  • Hissing

  • Spitting

  • Whistling

  • Gurgling

  • Echoing sounds or phrases repeatedly

Tic behaviors change over time. They also vary in how often they occur.

TS 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). He or she tries to manage it through a behavior (compulsion) to reduce the anxiety.

Diagnosing Tourette syndrome

A child with TS is usually diagnosed around the age of 7. The healthcare provider will ask about:

  • Your child’s symptoms and health history

  • Your family’s health history

  • Developmental problems

The healthcare provider will also:

  • Watch your child's behavior

  • Ask for a history of your child's behavior from teachers

  • Assess your child’s psychological, social, and educational status

Healthcare provider talking to woman and boy.

Treatment for Tourette syndrome

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 TS can usually function well at home and in a regular classroom.

Your child may need treatment if:

  • Tics cause problems with daily function or school

  • Your child has a problem such as OCD or ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder)

  • Your child has another emotional or learning problem

Treatment can include:

  • Special classes, to help with problems in school

  • Psychotherapy, to help with emotional stress

  • Medicine, if he or she has related conditions such as ADHD, OCD, or a mood disorder

  • Comprehensive behavioral intervention, to help deal with tics and reduce tics

Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.

Possible complications of Tourette syndrome

Many children who have TS also have attention problems. Some have trouble in school. But most have normal intelligence and don’t have a learning disability.

Other conditions often seen in children with TS include behavior problems, mood changes, social challenges, and trouble sleeping.

Helping your child live with Tourette syndrome

Your child may need support and help with:

  • Self-esteem

  • Relationships with family and friends

  • Classroom participation

Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about the best ways to support your child.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any of these:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • New symptoms

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.