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Tourette’s Syndrome

A neurological condition characterized by repetitive, involuntary physical or vocal tics

  • Usually starts between the ages of 7 and 12
  • More common in males
  • Usually runs in families
  • Lifestyle is not a significant factor

Also sometimes known by its full name, Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome, this condition is a comparatively rare neurological disorder in which the affected person makes involuntary movements and/or sounds. The precise number of people with Tourette’s syndrome is not known but it has been estimated that as many as 1 in 100 people are affected by the condition. It typically starts in childhood and affects more boys than girls. The cause of Tourette’s syndrome is not known, although in most cases it runs in families so genetic factors may be involved, although no specific genetic abnormality has been identified.

What are the symptoms?

Characteristically, the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome start between the ages of about 7 to 12 and include:

  • Repetitive, involuntary physical tics (called motor tics), such as facial twitches, blinking, mouth movements, and head and foot movements.

  • Repetitive, involuntary vocal tics (called phonic tics), such as coughing, throat-clearing, snorting, and grunting.

In some cases, the affected person may repeatedly utter obscenities (known as coprolalia), copy what other people say (echolalia) or do (echopraxia), or say the same thing repeatedly (palilalia). He or she may also repeatedly make complex physical movements, such as bending, jumping, or touching or hitting things or people.

In general, the symptoms are made worse by stress or boredom but may be diminished or even temporarily disappear by concentrating on a task, relaxation, or engaging in a pleasurable activity.

Various other conditions may be associated with Tourette’s syndrome, including obsessive–compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and self-harming behaviour.

What might be done?

Some people with mild symptoms learn to live with the disorder without treatment, although support from family and self-help groups can be beneficial in this process. However, most people with the disorder benefit from medication and/or psychological therapy, such as behaviour therapy. Depending on the individual, various drugs may be used, such as the antipsychotic drug haloperidol, which may reduce or even stop the tics. In addition to a therapist, a range of other specialists may also be involved in treatment, such as child psychologists and neurologists. In a few adults with Tourette’s syndrome who have not responded to other treatments, brain surgery has been tried, but with only occasional benefit.

If the affected individual also has any associated conditions – for example, ob-sessive–compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – treatment for those conditions may also be given.

What is the prognosis?

Although Tourette’s syndrome is a lifelong condition for most of those affected, more than half have only mild or moderate symptoms, and in most people the symptoms diminish over time.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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