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Tic Disorders

What are tics?

There are different kinds of tics. Tics can appear as muscle movements, as noises or sounds made by the person and as feeling things like cold, heat, tickling, or pressure. Tics are not voluntary movements, meaning that they are not done on purpose. Some children are able to briefly hold back their tics, but not for long.

Motor tics are brief, rapid, movements of the face, hands, or legs that happen over and over. Vocal tics can be words, throat clearing, or other sounds that are not made on purpose. If tics are severe, or happen often, they can affect many areas of a child's life.

Tics can be grouped into those that affect a single muscle group such as eye blinking or sticking out the tongue, or those that include multiple muscle groups in a coordinated movement such as jumping, head shaking, or throwing an object. People can have tics for years or the tics can disappear after a time.

Children with Tourette syndrome usually have many motor tics and many vocal tics. Tourette's usually begins in early childhood and lasts more than a year.

How do they occur?

We do not know the causes of tic disorders. They tend to run in families. Boys are much more likely to have them than girls. Tics may be related to low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, strep infections, some stimulant medicines, caffeine, or brain diseases.

As many as 1 in every 4 children develops a short-term tic. This is fairly common in school-aged children as they adjust to new routines, new schools, and new friendships.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Eye twitches or very fast eye blinks
  • Uncontrolled face movements
  • Head jerks
  • Jumping
  • Making gestures or sexual touching
  • Hiccups
  • Grunting, throat clearing, or sniffling
  • Yelping, making up words, or repeating words over and over

A child may suffer from a single tic or have many tics. The tic may start in one body part and spread to other body parts. Children often have trouble paying attention and concentrating because they are distracted by their tics.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your child, watch the symptoms, and ask about medical and family history. Your child may need one or more of these tests:

  • Blood tests
  • EEG. It measures the electricity in your brain.
  • MRI. It makes a picture of the inside of your head.
  • CT scan. It is a special X-ray of your brain

These tests help the provider rule out other medical problems.

How are they treated?

With simple tics, very little treatment may be needed. Typically, tics increase when the child is tense or stressed, and decrease when the child is asleep, relaxed, or focused on a task. The use of relaxation techniques or biofeedback may help the child deal with stress.

Complex tic disorders and Tourette syndrome may be treated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT helps children learn what causes them to feel stress and how to control it. CBT can help the child learn ways to deal with the stress. The best form of treatment is often medicine.

What can I do to help my child?

Never punish or shame a child for tic behaviors. Children cannot stop their tic behaviors because they are not doing them on purpose. Telling the child to stop does not solve the problem. In fact, it may make tics worse. Do not make a big deal out of the behaviors.

If your child's symptoms are seriously interfering with his or her daily life, get help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-29
Last reviewed: 2011-06-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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