Tourette syndrome, or TS, is a condition of the nervous system that is characterized by tics—or involuntary twitches, movements, or sounds that a person does repeatedly. For example, a person might make a noise repeatedly or keep blinking their eyes again and again. Having tics is described by some as being a bit like having the hiccups—though you may not want to hiccup, your body does it anyway. You might be able to exert some control over the hiccup, but not easily. TS is named for Dr. George Gilles de la Tourette, the French neurologist who was the first to describe the condition in an 86-year old French noblewoman, in 1885.
The first symptoms of TS are usually first noticed in childhood, and the average age of onset is between the ages of 3 and 9. TS occurs in people from all racial and ethnic groups, though boys are three to fives times more likely than girls to be affected by TS. In the U.S.A, 1 out of every 360 children between the ages of 6 and 17 has been diagnosed with TS.
TS can be a chronic condition with symptoms that can last a lifetime, but the good news is that most people who have TS experience it most acutely during their early teens, with symptoms improving in the later teen years and into adulthood.
There are two main types of tics—vocal and motor.
- Motor tics are movements of the body that can include blinking, jerking, or shrugging.
- Vocal tics are sounds that a person makes, like humming, yelling out a word or phrase, clicking, or humming.
Tics can be either simple or complex.
- Simple tics involve only a few parts of the body—and can include such things as blinking or squinting.
- Complex tics generally involve several different parts of the body, and often have a pattern. For example, jerking the arm and then touching the nose.