Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by having the repetitive urge to engage in motor (movement) tics and/or phonic (sound-based) tics. Many TS patients say they perform the tics to ‘release’ a feeling of built-up tension.

The disorder typically emerges in childhood and affects approximately 0.4% to 3.8% of children ages 5 to 18. Severe adulthood cases are rare. The tics, which may range from very mild to very severe, may come and go, alternate or go into a state of remission.

The most common tics among school-age children include eye blinking, throat clearing, coughing, sniffing and facial or body movements. Although the media has focused mainly on TS patients who yell out inappropriate or obscene words — a condition known as coprolalia — these types of tics are actually fairly rare, occurring in only 10 percent of TS patients.

Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of TS, but the exact causes are still unknown. TS is often accompanied by other mental health disorders, with the most common being attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

TS is named after Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette (1857–1904), a French physician and neurologist. He was the first to publish an account of the disorder in 1885, wherein he described the cases of nine TS patients.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, TS is diagnosed when multiple motor tics and at least one phonic tic are present for more than one year. There is no cure for TS. Treatment aims to manage symptoms and may include education, psychobehavioral therapy and/or medication.

Example: After Joseph began clearing his throat every few minutes, his mom suspected he may have symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome like her brother.