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What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by tics - involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. Diagnostic criteria include:

  • Both multiple motor and one or more vocal tics present at some time, although not necessarily simultaneously
  • The occurrence of tics many times a day (usually in bouts) nearly every day or intermittently throughout the span of more than one year
  • Periodic changes in the number, frequency, type and location of the tics, and in the waxing and waning of their severity. Symptoms can sometimes disappear for weeks or months at a time
  • Onset before the age of 18

Although the word 'involuntary' is used to describe the nature of the tics, this is not entirely accurate. It would not be true to say that people with TS have absolutely no control over their tics, as though it was some type of spasm; rather, a more appropriate term would be 'compelling'.

People with TS feel an irresistible urge to perform their tics, much like the need to scratch a mosquito bite. Some people with TS are able to hold back their tics for up to hours at a time, but this only leads to a stronger outburst of tics once they are finally allowed to be expressed.