Tourette Syndrome & Other Tic Disorders

What Is Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders?

Tic disorders comprise four diagnostic categories: Tourette's disorder, persistent (chronic) motor or vocal tic disorder, provisional tic disorder, and the other specified and unspecified tic disorders. Diagnosis for any tic disorder is based on the presence of motor and/or vocal tics (Criterion A), duration of tic symptoms (Criterion B), age at onset (Criterion C), and absence of any known cause such as another medical condition or substance use (Criterion D). The tic disorders are hierarchal in order (i.e., Tourette's disorder, followed by persistent [chronic] motor or vocal tic disorder, followed by provisional tic disorder, followed by the other specified and unspecified tic disorders), such that once a tic disorder at one level of the hierarchy is diagnosed, a lower hierarchy diagnosis cannot be made (Criterion E).

Tics are sudden, rapid, recurrent, nonrhythmic motor movements or vocalizations. An individual may have various tic symptoms over time, but at any point in time, the tic repertoire recurs in a characteristic fashion. Although tics can include almost any muscle group or vocalization, certain tic symptoms, such as eye blinking or throat clearing, are common across patient populations. Tics are generally experienced as involuntary but can be voluntarily suppressed for varying lengths of time.

Tics can be either simple or complex. Simple motor tics are of short duration (i.e., milliseconds) and can include eye blinking, shoulder shrugging, and extension of the extremities. Simple vocal tics include throat clearing, sniffing, and grunting often caused by contraction of the diaphragm or muscles of the oropharynx. Complex motor tics are of longer duration (i.e., seconds) and often include a combination of simple tics such as simultaneous head turning and shoulder shrugging. Complex tics can appear purposeful, such as tic-like sexual or obscene gesture (copropraxia) or a tic-like imitation of someone else's movements (echopraxia). Similarly, complex vocal tics include repeating one's own sounds or words (palilalia), repeating the last-heard words or phrase (echolalia), or uttering socially unacceptable words, including obscenities, or ethic, racial, or religious slurs (copralalia). Importantly, copralalia is an abrupt, sharp bark or grunt utterance and lacks the prosody of similar inappropriate speech observed in human interactions.*


*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. 81-82. Print