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What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological condition that causes involuntary, purposeless movements and sounds called tics. Tics can occur throughout the body and in endless variety.  Tics can simple, such as muscle tensing, eyeblinking, or inaudible movements of air. They can be complex, such as whole body movements or uttering words or phrases.  Here is a more extensive list of possible tics. While tics are involuntary (i.e. not controlled by the individual with tics), many individuals can tell that a tic is about to happen because of a quickly building feeling of discomfort, called a premonitory urge that happens before the tic. The awareness of this premonitory urge is useful for the behavioral treatment of tics.

While many individuals have tics at some point (about 25% of young children), individuals with TS have multiple tics, with tics being there most of the time for at least one year. About 1% of children are thought to have a diagnosis of TS.  For individuals with TS or families, here are some useful things to know about what might happen with tics over time.

In addition to tics, many individuals with Tourette syndrome have other difficulties, called co-morbid disorders. Oftentimes, the co-morbid disorders cause more difficulties than the tics themselves. The two most common co-morbid disorders are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Other frequent co-morbid disorders are anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, rage attacks and trichotillomania (hair pulling). In addition, children and adolescents with TS may have difficulties with peer relationships, social skills, being bullied, and executive functioning. Remember though, not all individuals with tics have these difficulties. Even those with a lot of difficulties can improve dramatically over time.

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