Tic Disorders

Tic disorders are neurological conditions that involve sudden involuntary movements or bursts of sound. These disorders normally show up in childhood and may be worsened by stress, anxiety, overheating or fatigue. The specific cause of tics is unknown, although it is believed to be neurological and may have a genetic component. Common tics include:

  • Excessive blinking
  • Facial grimaces
  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Sudden jerky movements of a body part
  • Abrupt, unexpected vocalizations such as grunts or barks
  • Contractions of the diaphragm or abdomen with associated sounds

Tics are classified by their type and severity. While one tic, such as excessive blinking, may be tolerable to the patient and not interfere very much with everyday life, patients frequently have multiple tics which are disturbing and interfere with normal activities. When a patient has multiple motor or vocal tics, but not both, the patient is diagnosed with chronic motor or vocal tic disorder. If a patient exhibits both vocal and motor tics, the diagnosis is Tourette’s syndrome.

Most tics only last for less than a year and resolve on their own. It is usually helpful to reassure children about their mild tics and to pay minimal attention to them. More severe tics may be treated successfully with mild sedatives or beta blockers. While these medications are often helpful in alleviating symptoms, some tics may persist. It is common for one tic to disappear and another to develop. Also, sometimes medications for tic disorders may have troubling side effects, including problems with movement or thought.

Treatment depends on how severe or disabling the condition is. Studies have shown some successful alleviation of symptoms with cognitive behavioral therapy. Other forms of psychotherapy may be useful in helping patients cope with concomitant problems with social interactions. There is some evidence that medical and psychiatric intervention early in childhood provides more satisfying therapeutic results than therapy later in life.

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