Nervous Tics

Involuntary repeated contraction of one or more muscles

  • More common in children
  • More common in males
  • Stress is a risk factor
  • Genetics as a risk factor depends on the cause

Nervous tics occur when a muscle or a group of muscles controlled by peripheral nerves contracts repeatedly and involuntarily. The condition most often affects the facial muscles, but sudden, uncontrolled movements of the limbs and sounds such as grunts and throat clearing can also occur. Typical nervous tics include repetitive blinking, mouth twitching, and shrugging. Tics are common, recurrent, and painless. However, they may result in self-consciousness and teasing by others. Nervous tics usually develop during childhood and occur more commonly in boys than girls.

Often, the cause is unknown, but tics may be associated with stress because they tend to occur when children are tired or upset. In Tourette’s syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that occurs more frequently in boys, there may be involuntary movements of the head, arms, and legs and repetitive shouts, noises, grimaces, and spoken obscenities.

What are the symptoms?

A tic usually lasts only a fraction of a second. The muscle contraction may occur repeatedly and may cause:

  • Rapid, uncontrolled blinking.

  • Twitching of the muscles around the mouth.

  • Shrugging of the shoulders or jerking movements of the neck.

  • Involuntary contractions of the dia-phragm, causing grunting or hiccups.

Nervous tics may be suppressed for a short period, but, in doing this, people often become more tense. When children are absorbed in an activity or asleep, tics usually disappear.

What might be done?

You should consult your doctor if you or your child has persistent nervous tics. Often, no treatment is necessary. In other cases, your doctor may suggest one or more psychological therapies to help to relieve stress. If symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe an antianxiety drug for short periods of time. In some cases, tics produced by Tourette’s syndrome can be suppressed by certain antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol.

Nervous tics, particularly those that occur in children, will usually disappear within about a year of the disorder first developing. However, in a few children, nervous tics tend to persist and continue in adulthood. Tourette’s syndrome is a lifelong condition for most people, although symptoms often diminish over time.

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

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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