What is Tourette syndrome?
Tourette syndrome, or TS, is an inherited neurological disorder that causes people to make involuntary and uncontrollable vocal sounds and movements, called ‘tics’.
Tourette syndrome usually begins between 2 and 21 years of age. There is no cure for TS, but it usually improves as the person gets older and does not shorten life span. Some people find the tics go away as they enter adulthood.
What are the symptoms of Tourette syndrome?
Tourette syndrome symptoms are usually mild, but can sometimes be severe.
One set of symptoms is known as movement tics. People with movement tics can find themselves jerking their head, stretching their neck, stamping their feet, and twisting and bending. Some people may bite themselves or hurt themselves in other ways, or find it necessary to repeatedly touch other people and things.
Another set of symptoms is known as vocal tics. People with vocal tics might clear their throat, cough, sniff, click their tongue, grunt, yelp, bark or shout. Some also swear or repeat certain sounds or phrases.
Someone with Tourette syndrome might be able to stop their tics for a short time, but this builds up tension until the tic ‘escapes’.
Tics worsen with stress and improve with relaxation or when the person is absorbed in a particular activity.
Tourette syndrome doesn’t affect anyone’s intelligence.
How is Tourette syndrome diagnosed?
To diagnose Tourette syndrome, a doctor will talk about the symptoms and rule out that they’re being caused by an illness or by medicine.
Living with Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome can cause problems with daily life, including learning, behaviour and sleep problems, anxiety and mood changes.
Treatment for Tourette syndrome uses medicine to reduce particular symptoms, though most people with Tourette syndrome don’t need treatment or medicine. Relaxation techniques can help reduce stress.
Resources and support
You can get support from the Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia. You can also find out more about genetic conditions in general and about genetic counselling.
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Last reviewed: August 2020