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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Tourette's Syndrome

What Is Tourette's Syndrome?

Tourette's syndrome is a problem with the nervous system that causes people to make sudden movements or sounds, called tics, that they can't control. For example, someone with Tourette's might blink or clear their throat over and over again. Some people may blurt out words they don't intend to say.

Treatments can control tics, but some people don’t need any unless their symptoms really bother them.

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About 100,000 Americans have full-blown Tourette's syndrome, but more people have a milder form of the disease. It often starts in childhood, and more boys than girls get it. Symptoms often get better as children grow up. For some people, they go away completely.


Tourette's has been linked to different parts of the brain, including an area called the basal ganglia, which helps control body movements. Differences there may affect nerve cells and the chemicals that carry messages between them. Researchers think the trouble in this brain network may play a role in Tourette's.

Doctors don't know exactly what causes these problems in the brain, but genes probably play a role. It's likely that there is more than one cause.

People who have family members with Tourette's are more likely to get it themselves. But people in the same family may have different symptoms.


The main symptom is tics. Some are so mild they're not even noticeable. Others happen often and are obvious. Stress, excitement, or being sick or tired can make them worse. The more severe ones can be embarrassing and can affect your social life or work.

There are two types of tics:

Motor tics involve movement. They include:

  • Arm or head jerking
  • Blinking
  • Making a face
  • Mouth twitching
  • Shoulder shrugging

Vocal tics include:

  • Barking or yelping
  • Clearing your throat
  • Coughing
  • Grunting
  • Repeating what someone else says
  • Shouting
  • Sniffing
  • Swearing

Tics can be simple or complex. A simple tic affects one or just a few parts of the body, like blinking the eyes or making a face.

A complex one involves many parts of the body or saying words. Jumping and swearing are examples.

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