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Tourette's syndrome (TS) treatment

Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder which usually starts in childhood. It includes sudden, rapid, repetitive, non-rhythmic movements or vocalisations known as ‘tics’.

TS is a much misunderstood condition in society, where symptoms of TS manifesting in the form of repeated swearing or generally inappropriate comments, affect only a small percentage of people with the disorder.

The tics of TS can get better in the course of adolescence, and disappear completely or reduce very substantially to the point of not being at all bothersome by early adult life in two thirds of children. However, it is estimated that there are currently over 300,000 children and adults living with TS in the UK. Tics in TS tend to fluctuate in frequency and severity with their peak being at around the age of 10 to 12 years. TS frequently co-exists with other conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or other neurodevelopmental and mental health issues.

While there is no cure for TS, mental health treatment can help you to manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. If your tics are particularly severe to the extent that they are causing you significant frustration, stress or physical pain, Priory’s nationwide network of highly experienced specialist psychiatrists and therapists can help to alleviate your symptoms of Tourette’s.

Different types of tics

If you have TS, it is more likely that tics will follow a pattern of sudden, brief or repetitive movements of certain muscle groups, including rapid eye blinking or shoulder shrugging, alongside vocal tics such as excessively clearing your throat or sniffing.

Complex motor tics can include a mixture of movements, and complex vocal tics can include words or phrases. TS may include repeating the words and phrases of others, known as 'echolalia', or saying socially inappropriate words, known as ‘coprolalia’. This combination of symptoms is quite rare and only apparent in 10 to 15 percent of people with the condition.

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Treatment for TS  

While there is currently no cure for TS, most children and adults with tics will not need medication or specific treatment to relieve symptoms. If your tics are frequent and severe in nature to the extent that they are affecting your day-to-day life or are causing you to experience associated social and emotional problems, then Priory’s therapeutic treatment programmes for TS can help.

Behavioural therapy and psychotherapy sessions will be provided by specially trained therapists or psychologists who are highly experienced at treating people with tics and other symptoms of TS. These methods can help to reduce the frequency and severity of your tics through controlling urges to tic and increasing your awareness of triggering situations.

Some of the behavioural therapy and psychotherapy techniques used at Priory include:

Cognitive behavioural interventions for tics (CBIT)

CBIT, including habit reversal training which involves understanding your feelings and emotions which lead to you experiencing tics, after which you will work with your therapist to determine other ways which you can reduce the urge to tic.

This may also involve learning how to voluntarily move before you believe a tic is about to occur, which can ultimately reduce symptoms by not allowing your body to fall into a pattern of involuntary movement.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy may also be used to help you to learn coping mechanisms for not only dealing with symptoms of TS, but also any associated social and emotional problems that can develop as a result of the condition.

This can include turning a negative outlook into a more positive one, focusing on proactive methods of improving your relationship with the condition, and working towards making you feel more hopeful about living with TS both now and in the future.   

Medication for TS

If you have been diagnosed with TS, and the tics and associated symptoms of the condition are negatively impacting on your everyday function and overall wellbeing, then medication can help to reduce the frequency and severity of your tics. While there is no one medication that will guarantee significant relief from symptoms, groups of drugs such as A2 agonists or very small doses of antipsychotic medications, which, in higher doses, are typically used to treat psychotic conditions, can prove to be effective.     

Certain medications can also be useful when treating related neurodevelopmental or mental health disorders that can occur if you have TS. These include stimulant medication for ADHD and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for OCD, anxiety and depression.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Marinos Kyriakopoulos (PhD, MRCPsych, FRCPsych) in September 2022.

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