Cambridge Independent Neuroscience and Psychiatry Services
Tic disorders
What is a tic?

Motor tic:  A quick and sudden movement of any part of the body.  It can be an eyelid or a part of the face.  It is not done on purpose and can be very difficult to control.  It can happen repeatedly (many times after each other).

Vocal tic:  Similar to a motor tic; also difficult to control, not purposefully done and repetitive, but it is a sound that is made or a word that is said.  It can also occur in the form of humming noises or throat clearing. 

Tics are quite common and usually mild; causing little disruption in general functioning.  

What is a tic disorder?

Transient Tic Disorder 
Children have a large amount of tics, regularly, almost daily, for more than four weeks.

Chronic Tic Disorder 
As above, but continuing for more than one year.

Tourette's Syndrome 
As above, but tics become more complicated and cause significant ongoing impairment and distress. A history of vocal and motor tics is usually relevant. 

Children rarely develop Tourette's Syndrome.

What causes tic disorders?

This has not been established.  Genetic factors (runs in families), infections and medication can play a role in triggering tics.  Anxiety can also trigger or exacerbate tics.

The onset is often in children age 7-9 and tics affect boys more commonly than girls.  

How is a tic disorder diagnosed?

Your GP can refer you to a Child Psychiatrist, who can make the diagnosis, if appropriate, through discussion and observation.  They can also rule out other causes for movement disorders.

Comorbidities (conditions that can occur with tic disorders) are also considered, such as:
Developmental disorders
Neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD
Anxiety disorders such as OCD
Mood disorders such as Depression

This list is not comprehensive. 

How is a tic disorder treated?

Tics often resolve without treatment.  In severe cases, medication can be indicated.

Your Child Psychiatrist can offer you advice on treatment.
Important facts to support your child:

Most children with tic disorders do not have Tourette's Syndrome. 

Tourette's Syndrome is the rarest type of tic disorder. 

Tics can be common in children. 

Tics are not harmful.

Tics very often resolve spontaneously.

Most children do not need medication to manage tics.

Tics may worsen if significant attention is paid to them.

Tics may worsen during times of stress.

It is best to try and ignore the tics.

Tics sometimes bother the family much more than they bother the child.

Children can 'hold' tics for a period of time, for example during lessons at school, to avoid embarrassment, however, when children get home and relax, children often experience an 'outburst' of tics.  This does not mean that the tics are purposeful or under the control of the child.

If the tics are causing significant impairment or distress for the child, treatment may be necessary.

The content of these pages is intended for general information purposes only.  These pages do not constitute any form of consultative or diagnostic tool or process.  The assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health difficulties, particularly in children, is a complex and specialised process and should only be undertaken by individuals with appropriate training and sufficient experience, such as qualified mental health professionals.  If you are concerned about the mental health of a young person, please seek appropriate advice from your General Practitioner, local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service or Social Care.  Research findings and conclusions can vary between sources, and can change over time. 
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