Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
North Wales Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
Tourette’s syndrome is a condition affecting the brain and nervous system (a neurological condition) that is characterised by involuntary, random sounds and movements, known as tics.
It usually begins in childhood.
Tics can be:
Tics can also be:
Most people diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome have a combination of physical and vocal tics, which can be both simple and complex.
The tics do not usually pose a serious threat to a person's physical health, although physical tics, such as jerking of the head, can often be painful. However, children and adults affected by Tourette’s syndrome can experience associated problems such as social isolation, embarrassment and low self-esteem.
Treating Tourette’s syndrome
Some people with Tourette’s syndrome only experience tics occasionally and do not require treatment.
When the tics are more frequent, there are several medications that have proved reasonably effective in helping to control them.
A type of psychotherapy known as behavioural therapy can also be effective in many people with Tourette’s syndrome.
Children who develop Tourette’s syndrome will usually also have one or more other developmental or behavioural conditions. The two most commonly reported conditions are described below:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes persistent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. For example, feeling compelled to constantly wash your hands because you are obsessed with the fear that you will catch a serious illness if you don’t.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition that causes symptoms such as short attention span, being easily distracted and being unable to sit still because you are constantly fidgeting (hyperactivity).
In addition, children with Tourette’s syndrome may have other behavioural problems, such as flying into sudden rages or engaging in inappropriate or anti-social behaviour with other children.
In many cases, these associated conditions and behavioural problems can be more disruptive and troublesome than Tourette’s itself.
The cause of Tourette’s syndrome is unclear but it appears to be strongly associated with a part of the brain called the "basal ganglia", which plays an important role in regulating body movements.
In people with Tourette’s syndrome the basal ganglia appears to "misfire", resulting in the tics associated with the condition.
Who is affected by Tourette’s syndrome?
Tourette’s syndrome is a lot more common than most people realise, as it affects around 1 in every 100 people.
The symptoms usually begin at around the age of seven and become most pronounced during the teenage years.
Boys are more likely to be affected by Tourette’s syndrome than girls. It is unclear why this is the case.
Two thirds of people will experience a marked improvement in their symptoms, usually around 10 years after they first began. Many of these people will no longer require medication or therapy to control their tics.
For some people the Tourette symptoms become much less troublesome and frequent, while for others they can disappear entirely.
In the remaining third of people with Tourette’s syndrome, their symptoms will persist throughout their life, but the symptoms will usually become milder as they grow older. This means their need for medication and therapy may pass over time.