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Tic Disorders and Twitches

What Are the Common Tic Disorders?

The majority of tics are not severe. So they have very little effect on a person's quality of life. In some instances, though, tics may occur often enough to be disruptive and troubling. When they do, they can affect many areas of a person's life, including school, work, and social life.

Doctors use four characteristics to identify and diagnose tic disorders:

  • the age when tics began
  • duration of the tics
  • severity of the tics
  • whether tics are motor or vocal or both

Transient tic disorder. This disorder most commonly appears in youth. It affects between 5% and 25% of school-age children. Transient tic disorder is characterized by the presence of one or more tics for at least one month but less than one year. The majority of tics seen in this disorder are motor tics, though vocal tics may also be present.

Many children with the disorder experience multiple episodes of the transient tics, which may vary in how they manifest over time.

Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder. While transient tics disappear within a year, chronic tics can last for a year or more. Chronic tic disorder is characterized by the presence of one or more long-lasting tics. They may be either motor or vocal, but not both. For a diagnosis of chronic tic disorder, symptoms must begin before age 18.

Chronic tics occur in less than one in 100 children.

Tourette's syndrome. In some instances, what appears to be a chronic tic may be a sign of Tourette's syndrome. This syndrome is the most severe tic disorder. It is characterized by the presence of both motor tics and vocal tics.

Since many people with the disorder have not been diagnosed, it is unknown exactly how many people in the U.S. are living with Tourette's syndrome. Experts estimate that around 200,000 people in the U.S. have the condition. Symptoms typically begin when children are between ages 5 and 18 years.

The severity of Tourette's syndrome often changes over time. There may be periods of reduced tic frequency followed by heightened tic activity. Fortunately, many people with Tourette's syndrome find that their condition improves as they get older.

How Are Tic Disorders Treated?

The treatment for tic disorders depends on the severity of the condition. In many instances, no treatment is needed and the tics will resolve on their own.

In other cases, doctors may prescribe behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Behavioral therapy helps people learn to manage their tic symptoms and reduce tic frequency. Medications are typically used to reduce tic frequency and enhance a person's daily life. This usually does not result in the complete remission of tic symptoms.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on September 20, 2014

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