Tourette syndrome (TS) is a disorder that affects the body’s brain and nervous system by causing tics — sudden, repetitive movements or sounds that some people make, seemingly without realizing it. A person with Tourette syndrome has multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic.
Tics are actually more common in teens than you might think. You may know someone who has either a motor tic (sudden, uncontrollable movements like exaggerated blinking of the eyes) or a vocal tic (sounds such as throat clearing, grunting, or humming).
Tourette syndrome is a genetic disorder, which means it’s the result of a change in genes that are either inherited (passed on from parent to child) or happens during development in the womb. As with other genetic disorders, someone may have a tendency to develop TS. But that doesn’t mean the person will definitely get it.
The exact cause of Tourette syndrome isn’t known, but some research suggests that it happens when there’s a problem with how nerves communicate in certain areas of the brain. An upset in the balance of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that carry nerve signals from cell to cell) might play a role.
People with Tourette syndrome usually first notice symptoms while they’re kids or teens. TS affects people of all races and backgrounds, although more guys than girls have the condition.
And, Tourette syndrome is not contagious. You can’t catch it from someone who has it.
Prevalence of co-occurring conditions and disorders among children with TS
Data on 65,540 US children aged 6-17 years from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health.
In most cases, tics decrease during adolescence and early adulthood, and sometimes disappear entirely; however, many experience tics into adulthood and, in some cases, tics can become worse in adulthood.
- One study that followed youth with TS over time found that at 18 years of age, almost half (47%) of the youth had been tic-free the week before they were interviewed, just over 10% had minimal tics, over a quarter (28%) had mild symptoms, and 11% had moderate to severe tics.
Public Health Impact of TS
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to understand TS and to improve the health and wellbeing of people with Tourette Syndrome.