NJCTS - New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, Inc. - Collaborations and Partnerships for the Tourette Syndrome Community

Information for Families

Support for Families

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary movements and uncontrollable vocal (phonic) sounds called tics. In a few cases, such tics can include inappropriate words and phrases.

The disorder is named for Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the pioneering French neurologist who first described an 86-year-old French noblewoman with the condition in 1885. TS can affect people of all ethnic groups; males are affected 3 to 4 times more often than females. TS symptoms generally appear before the individual is 18 years old and may often be accompanied by other disorders such as:

  • OCD
  • School Phobias
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep & Mood Disorders

TS symptoms that lead to a diagnosis include, but are not limited to:

  • Both multiple motor and one or more vocal tics are present at some time during the illness, although not necessarily at the same time.
  • The occurrence of tics many times a day (usually in concentrated bouts) nearly every day over the span of more than one year.

Tics can be simple or complex, and are generally grouped into categories:

  • Simple motor tics: Eye blinking, body jerking, facial grimacing, head jerking, shoulder shrugging
  • Simple vocal tics: Sniffing, throat clearing, humming, tongue clicking, whistling, yelping
  • Complex motor tics: Jumping, smelling, touching other people or things, twirling and rarely, coporopraxia (demonstrating socially inappropriate gestures)
  • Complex vocal tics: Saying words or phrases out of context (oh boy!), stuttering and rarely, coprolalia (vocalizing socially unacceptable words)

It is estimated that more than 200,000 Americans have full-blown TS, and that as many as 1 in 100 show a partial expression of the disorder—such as chronic multiple tics or transient childhood tics.

The natural course of TS varies from patient to patient. Although TS symptoms range from very mild to quite severe, the majority of cases fall in the mild category. However, TS is not degenerative. Intelligence levels and life span are no different than that of everyone else.

Genetic studies indicate that TS is inherited as a dominant gene and that a person with TS has about a 50 percent chance of passing the gene to one or more of his/her children. This genetic predisposition may express itself as TS, as a milder tic disorder or as obsessive compulsive symptoms with no tics at all.

There is no known cure for TS, but a lot of progress has been made in understanding the best treatments for reducing the severity and impact of TS and its related symptoms. Many people experience marked improvement in their late teens or early 20s. Most people with TS get better as they mature and those diagnosed with TS can anticipate a normal life span.

The majority of people with TS are not significantly disabled by their tics or behavioral symptoms, and therefore do not require medication.
In instances where symptoms of TS or symptoms of related disorders interfere with daily functioning, medications may be prescribed. There is no one specific drug for the treatment of Tourette Syndrome, and each individual responds differently to drug therapies; but a number of medications have shown positive results in controlling symptoms of TS and its associated conditions.