What is Tourette's Syndrome? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

In this lesson, the stereotypical myth of Tourette's Syndrome is examined and corrected, the symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome are listed, and various treatment methods are discussed.

What Tourette's Syndrome IS and ISN'T

For most of us, when we think of Tourette's Syndrome, we think of the stereotype of the highly agitated guy who jumps up and uncontrollably curses during class or during an important board meeting... but did you know that this is mostly a stereotype? Yes, Tourette's Syndrome is real, and yes, on rare occasions, it affects people by making them swear uncontrollably. But most of the time, people with Tourette's have minor tics that most of us wouldn't even notice. In fact, Tourette's Syndrome is a neurological disorder that over 100,000 people in the United States deal with on a daily basis. The most common occurrence is the presence of different types of tics, which can range from the hardly noticeable to the full-blown stereotype described above (although that is very rare).

Symptoms of Tourette's

Believe it or not, more boys than girls are afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome. The reason for this is unknown. In addition, Tourette's has a tendency to piggyback with other disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and various learning disabilities.

The most common symptom of Tourette's Syndrome is a tic. A tic can be anything from repetitive blinking or head nodding to the unconscious barking or repeating of words that other people say. Here is a list of the most common types of tics:

  • Blinking
  • Arm or head jerking
  • Making a face
  • Mouth twitching
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Throat clearing
  • Barking or yelping
  • Coughing
  • Grunting
  • Shouting
  • Sniffing
  • Swearing
  • Repeating what someone else says

Fortunately, none of these symptoms are life-threatening, and in the case of the person who has Tourette's, he or she may not even be aware that they are doing the things listed above. Unfortunately, it can cause embarrassment when people point out what's going on, and others may be cruel to or make fun of the sufferer.

Tourette's usually appears in childhood or adolescence, and the vast majority of patients 'outgrow' these tics by the time they reach late adolescence or adulthood. Nobody really knows what happens in the brain to cause Tourette's Syndrome, but many scientists and doctors believe that the disorder has a genetic component, as children of parents with Tourette's are more likely to get the disorder themselves.


For milder and less complex tics, no particular treatment may be necessary. Many people live with Tourette's and practice self-care as a way of lessening the frequency of the tics. This self-care involves eating at regular intervals, getting plenty of sleep, and taking measures to curb stress or anxiety, as being too hungry, stressed, or tired can usually worsen the tics.

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