What is Tourette Syndrome?

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes people to experience tics and other symptoms. Tics are involuntary, repetitive movements or sounds. They can happen randomly or appear in situations that cause stress, anxiety, tiredness, or excitement. The cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown.

There is no cure for Tourette syndrome. Treatment may not be needed if the tics aren't serious. In other cases, the treatment includes behavioral therapy or medication.

What are tics?

Tics are sudden, fast, repetitive movements or vocal sounds that are difficult or impossible to control. The typical onset of tics is between 4-6 years old. An onset before 18 is required for a diagnosis. Tic severity often peaks between 10-12 years old and can decline in adolescence. A small percentage of people will have tics get worse in adulthood.

Types of Tic Disorders


There are three types of tic disorders, all of which start before a person is 18 years old. These tics are not related to another medical condition or medication. The tics can occur several times a day, almost every day, or from time to time. These neurological disorders differ based on the types of tics a person experiences: motor, vocal, or both. The disorders also differ based on how long the person has had symptoms before the diagnosis.

The three types of tic disorders diagnoses are:

  • Tourette syndrome (also called Tourette disorder)
    • Characterized by multiple motor and one or more vocal tics
    • People diagnosed with Tourette syndrome have had tic symptoms for at least one year
  • Persistent motor or vocal tic disorder (also called chronic tic disorder)
    • Motor or vocal tics but not both
    • Those with persistent tic disorder have had tic symptoms for more than one year
  • Provisional tic disorder
    • Have motor or vocal tics, or both
    • Individuals with provisional tic disorder have had symptoms for less than one year

Signs & Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome


Motor and vocal tics are the main symptoms of Tourette syndrome. Tics are sudden, fast, and repetitive movements (motor tics) or vocal sounds that are impossible or difficult to control. They may appear around the age of 5 and may improve over time.

People with Tourette syndrome have two types of tics: motor and vocal. The tics can be simple or complex. Complex tics usually involve several different body parts and are repeated in a pattern. People's tics change over time, and new tics appear, then disappear, and may reappear.

  • Motor tics are body movements, such as blinking or shrugging a shoulder. An example of a complex motor tic is a repetitive series of movements that involve different body parts.
  • Vocal tics are sounds like coughing, clearing the throat, or repeating a word or phrase. An example of a simple vocal tic is coughing. A more complex vocal tic may involve repeating a whole phrase.

Sometimes people with Tourette syndrome are shown in the media as shouting out swear words or repeating another person's words, but these symptoms are rare.

Tic triggers

Tics can happen randomly or may be associated with:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Excitement

What Causes Tourette Syndrome?


The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is unknown, though genetic mutations (changes) and environmental factors might play a role.

Risk Factors for Tourette Syndrome

Risk Factors

Risk factors for Tourette syndrome include:

  • Family history – Having one or more family members with Tourette syndrome may increase your risk of developing it
  • Sex - Males are 3-4 times more likely to develop Tourette syndrome
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Tourette Syndrome Care

The experts at NewYork-Presbyterian are conducting clinical research on neurological conditions, including Tourette syndrome and other tic disorders, to find better ways to diagnose and treat them. Learn more about Parkinson's Disease and movement disorders we treat, or contact us to make an appointment.