What Makes Them Tic? The Facts about Tourette Syndrome

The Doctor Weighs In
10 min readMay 20, 2021

Tics are cornerstone of the diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome. They are sudden, brief, intermittent, repetitive movements (motor tics) or noises (vocal tics).

By Joohi Jimenez-Shahed, M.D.

Medical review by Patricia Salber, MD, MBA

Photo source: JumpStory

Key Takeaway Points about Tourette Syndrome (TS)

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 0.3% of children age 6–17 years in the United States have received a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome (about 148,000 children)[1], but some reviews put this number as high as 0.9%[2]. At least half of children with this condition remain undiagnosed[3], a somber fact given the potential for significant adverse psychosocial impacts from this neurodevelopmental condition. TS is poorly understood amongst both the lay and physician community, leading to both misconceptions and stigmatization of individuals suffering from this treatable disorder.

What are tics?

Tics form the cornerstone of the diagnosis of TS[4]. They are involuntary or semi-voluntary, sudden, brief, intermittent, repetitive movements (motor tics) or noises (vocal tics).

These movements and noises often occur out of their normal context or in inappropriate situations, which makes them difficult to manage, because they can call attention to the individual experiencing them. This is especially true when the tics occur in an exaggerated, forceful or repetitive manner. Tics often come and go over time, without specific provocation, though they may be more intense or frequent during periods of stress, relaxation, concentration, or anxiety.

A defining feature of tics is that they are commonly preceded by a premonitory sensation or “urge”. Examples include a burning or itching of the eyes before an eye-blinking tic or tickling in the throat before a coughing tic. These sensations are temporarily relieved after the tic…

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