Tics | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Tics

A tic is an uncontrollable movement that occurs repeatedly and without warning. There are two main types of tics:

  • Vocal tics, which can include impulsive throat clearing, grunting, or other sounds.
  • Motor tics, which can include moving the limbs or other body parts for no reason.

For many people, tics are a temporary experience that goes away after about a year. This is known as transient tic disorder and affects about 10 percent of children.

For either vocal or motor tics that last longer than a year, the condition is known as chronic motor tic disorder or chronic vocal tic disorder. If a person has both vocal and motor tics for more than a year, it’s called Tourette’s syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Tics

If a person has tics, they could display them in a number of ways. For example, you might notice:

  • Facial grimacing or other odd expressions
  • Blinking or looking off to the side
  • Jerking, twitching, or shrugging
  • Swinging or moving the arms or legs
  • Throat clearing or grunting
  • Sniffling or snorting

Some people are able to tell when a tic is about to occur because they experience a strange sensation. When this happens, they may be able to restrain the tic for a few minutes, but will have to give in to it eventually.

Causes and Risk Factors of Tics

Doctors aren’t certain what causes tics, but they believe it could be a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. When the signals in the brain aren’t transmitted correctly by these chemicals, the brain may receive unnecessary movement cues, resulting in tics.

However, doctors do know that tics can sometimes be made worse by:

  • Extremely hot or cold temperatures
  • Being stressed or anxious
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Being overly excited

Risk factors for tics include having a family history of the condition and being a male.

Tests and Diagnosis of Tics

To test for tics, you should seek care from a neurology department that specializes in movement disorders. While your doctor may perform blood tests or MRI scans to rule out other causes of your symptoms, a diagnosis is typically based on your symptoms. Your doctor may ask you the following questions:

  • Have your tics been occurring for more than a year?
  • Do you have motor, vocal, or both kinds of tics?
  • Were you under 18 when your tics started?

Treatment and Care for Tics

There is no cure for tics, but there are several medications that can reduce their frequency and severity. Some of these medications can include:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Botox injections
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Medications that reduce dopamine, a brain chemical that transmits messages back and forth

Behavioral therapy to learn how you can try and control tics is also an option. This therapy focuses on helping you learn to recognize tic urges and replace the tic with another action instead.