At some point in our lives, we have all experienced some form of an uncontrollable muscle spasm or twitch. These “tics” as they are commonly referred to are normally harmless and don’t last long. In some cases however, they are the result of a child onset, neurodevelopmental condition known as a tic disorder.
Tics are involuntary, repetitive movements or vocalizations and are distinguished as either motor or vocal/phonic in nature
- Motor tics are short-lasting, sudden movements that most often take place in the head and neck region. Simple motor tics include, but are not limited to, eye blinking, head bobbing, jaw movements, shoulder shrugging, and neck stretching.
- Vocal or phonic tics produce a sound. Examples include, but are not limited to sniffing, throat clearing, grunting, hooting, and shouting. Complex vocal tics involve the usage of words or phrases and in rare cases, inappropriate language is used.
Those with tic disorders explain experiencing a tingling sensation that can only be relieved by performing the tic. They might be able to momentarily suppress a tic, but doing so only creates a level of discomfort that can only be relieved by performing the tic.
Approximately 25% of all children experience some type of tic disorder, with boys being far more likely to develop a disorder than girls. Tic disorders usually emerge develop in children between the ages of five and seven. They tend to increase in frequency between the ages of eight to twelve. Most children with tic disorders see their symptoms dissipate or totally resolve themselves during late adolescence.
Tic disorders are distinguished by the types of tics present and by the length of time that the tics have been present.
- Transient tic disorder – This disorder most commonly appears in youth. It affects between 5% and 25% of school-age children. Transient tic disorder is characterized by the presence of one or more tics for at least one month but less than one year. The majority of tics seen in this disorder are motor tics, though vocal tics may also be present.
- Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder – While transient tics disappear within a year, chronic tics can last for a year or more. Chronic tic disorder is characterized by the presence of one or more long-lasting tics. They may be either motor or vocal, but not both. Chronic tics occur in less than one in 100 children.
- Tourette’s syndrome – This syndrome is the most severe tic disorder. It is characterized by the presence of both motor tics and vocal tics. The severity of Tourette’s syndrome often changes over time. There may be periods of reduced tic frequency followed by heightened tic activity. Fortunately, many people with Tourette’s syndrome find that their condition improves as they get older.
Doctors do not know what causes tics to occur, but stress and lack of sleep seem to play a role in the occurrence and severity of tics. Some medications are also thought to contribute to tics, but there is no evidence to confirm this theory.
Treatment for tic disorders depends on the severity of the condition. In many instances, no treatment is needed and the tics will resolve over time. In some instances, a doctor may suggest behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Behavioral therapy can help those with tic disorders learn how to manage their tic symptoms and reduce tic frequency. Medications are typically prescribed to reduce tic frequency and enhance a person’s daily life.
If you think your child has a tic disorder, discuss the condition with their pediatrician. If you do not have a pediatrician, Jamaica Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center has many excellent doctors who can provide care. To make an appointment, please call 718-206-7001.
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