Skip to content
A Maryland State Department of Education Resource

Understanding Tourette Syndrome

Scrabble pieces on a wooden table that spell

From the Tourette Syndrome Association, MidAtlantic Chapter

What is Tourette Syndrome?

  • Both multiple motor and one or more vocal (phonic) tics are present at some time during the illness, although not necessarily simultaneously.
  • Tics are recurrent, non-rhythmic, actions or vocalizations that can usually be suppressed for a period when a person focuses on stopping them.
  • Less than 40 percent of people with TS have coprolalia (outbursts of swearing).
  • Most people experience a discomforting sensation prior to their tics that disappears after they carry out the tic.
  • Tics occur many times a day, nearly every day or intermittently throughout a year.
  • Onset occurs before the age of 21.
  • Symptoms can disappear for weeks or months at a time and severity can change.
  • Most people experience less tics as they get older; nearly 50 percent of people have significantly less tics as they reach adulthood.

What causes Tourette Syndrome?

Approximately one in 200 children will have Tourette syndrome. Although the cause has not been definitely established, there is growing scientific evidence that TS is caused by a neurological illness affecting neurons (nerve cells) in different parts of the brain. People with TS may also have a dysfunction of their neurotransmitters—the chemicals that neurons use to communicate with each other. Multiple genes have been shown to cause the symptoms of Tourette syndrome. Boys are approximately four times more likely to have Tourette syndrome than girls.

What other symptoms are associated with Tourette Syndrome besides tics?

Approximately 50 percent of people with TS experience inattention, hyperactivity, and other distressing symptoms that are characteristic of ADHD. In some people, these may actually be the most frustrating and worrisome symptoms of their illness. People with TS are at increased risk for developing anxiety disorders. Approximately one-third of people with TS experience severe and impairing obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviors and may be diagnosed with OCD. Other common difficulties include learning disabilities and developmental stuttering.

How is Tourette Syndrome diagnosed?

No blood analysis, x-ray or other medical test exists to identify Tourette syndrome. The first step in diagnosis occurs when a young person is brought to their doctor for evaluation. Sometimes this happens when a parent is concerned about tics or another symptom of Tourette syndrome; other times it occurs at a regularly scheduled check-up when a person’s doctor notices these symptoms during a routine physical examination.

Read more about Tourette Syndrome here.

Related content