Tourette Syndrome

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Tourette syndrome (TS) is a chronic disorder of the nervous system known by its motor and vocal tics. These tics are rapid, involuntary movements or sounds that occur repeatedly.

Many people with TS also have one or more of the following problems:

  • Obsessions
  • Compulsions and ritualistic behaviors
  • Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD or ADHD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Sleep disorders

The exact cause of TS is unknown. However, brain chemicals, called dopamine and serotonin, are most likely involved.

There may be a genetic link to TS, although some have no known family history.

Risk Factors for TS

Males are three to four times more likely to be affected. Other factors that may increase your risk of TS include:

  • Family history of TS
  • Having other tic disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

TS Symptoms: Tics

To be TS, the tics must:

  • Be present for more than one year
  • Start before age 18
  • Be both motor and vocal tics
    • Motor tics
      • Simple — eye blinking, head jerking, arm or shoulder shrugging
      • Complex — jumping, smelling, touching things or other people or twirling around
    • Vocal tics
      • Simple — throat clearing, coughing, sniffing, grunting, yelping or barking
      • Complex — saying words or phrases that do not make sense in a given situation, saying obscene or socially unacceptable words

Tics range from mild to severe. They can occur suddenly and vary in the amount of time that they last. Tics may temporarily decrease with concentration or distraction. They may occur more often during tense and stressful situations.

While tics may occur throughout life, symptoms may improve throughout late adolescence or adulthood.

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Your doctor may order tests to rule out other medical conditions as the cause of the tics. Test may include:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • EEG
  • Blood tests

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. 

Tourette Syndrome Therapy

Learning about TS is a very important part of treatment. Therapy can also help you develop habits to help manage tics or other related symptoms. Types of therapy include:

  • Behavior therapy can help people with TS learn to substitute their tics with other movements or sounds that are more acceptable.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy can help reduce obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy can help people with TS and their families cope with the disorder.

In addition, relaxation, biofeedback and exercise can reduce help reduce stress.

Medications for TS

TS medication has strong side effects, but you may not need medication.

Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antipsychotics to help control tics
  • Certain antidepressants to manage related obsessive-compulsive habits
  • Stimulants or medication used to treat high blood pressure to manage symptoms related to ADD and ADHD


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.