Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(8):2274

See related article on Tourette's syndrome.

What are tics?

Tics are movements or sounds that are repeated over and over. A person with a tic can't control the movement or sounds. Tics usually last less than a year. Throat clearing and eye squinting are common tics. Tics are often worse when a person is stressed, tired or anxious. Some medicines make tics worse.

What is Tourette's syndrome?

Tourette's syndrome is one form of tic disorder. Children with Tourette's syndrome have both repetitive movements and sounds, but they may not always occur together. Several different tics can happen at the same time. The tics and sounds of Tourette's syndrome usually start between 3 and 10 years of age. They come and go, and usually they aren't a severe problem. Your child may have a tic but not have Tourette's syndrome.

Will my child outgrow this?

Most tics go away after a few months. Sometimes one or two tics will last for many years. Children with Tourette's syndrome usually have their worst symptoms between 9 and 13 years of age. Over one half of these children get much better during the teen years and in early adulthood. Less than one half of people who have Tourette's syndrome as children have moderate to severe tics as adults.

Is there any treatment?

Many children won't need any medicine, but some may. The important thing is to get the right diagnosis for your child. This makes it easier to understand your child's behavior.

What can I do to help my child?

Your child has very little control over tics caused by Tourette's syndrome. If you focus too much on the tics, they may get worse. Your child can hold back tics for a little while, but eventually they'll come out. In most cases, it's not helpful to encourage your child to try to stop the tic. A tic or Tourette's syndrome doesn't mean a child is being “bad.”

Talk about your child's problem with your relatives and your child's teachers and day care providers. You can get more information from the Tourette Syndrome Association (telephone: 718-224-2999). Share this information with the people in your child's life.

What else should I know?

About one half of all children with Tourette's syndrome also have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (also called “ADHD”). About one third also have learning disabilities, and one third also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (thoughts or behaviors that happen over and over). Your doctor can help you find out if your child has these other conditions.

Tics may affect more than one person in a family. In these families, tics and Tourette's syndrome should be considered as a possible cause if a child has learning or behavior problems.

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