What causes tics and how can I manage them effectively?

Symptom Database

Tics are sudden, repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds that can occur in any part of the body. They are often associated with a tic disorder, which is a neurological condition characterized by the presence of tics. Tics can range from mild to severe and can significantly impact a person’s daily life. In this article, we will explore the causes of tics and discuss effective strategies for managing them.

Tic Symptoms

Tic symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Some common motor tics include eye blinking, facial grimacing, head jerking, shoulder shrugging, and repetitive movements of the limbs. Vocal tics, on the other hand, involve the production of sounds or words, such as throat clearing, sniffing, grunting, or even the utterance of inappropriate words or phrases.

It is important to note that tics are typically preceded by an uncomfortable sensation or urge, known as a premonitory urge. Giving in to these urges by performing the tic provides temporary relief, but the urge eventually returns, leading to a cycle of tic behavior.

Tic Disorder in Children

Tic disorders often begin in childhood, with the average age of onset being around 6-7 years. They are more common in boys than girls. In some cases, tics may be transient and resolve on their own without any intervention. However, for others, tics may persist and become chronic, requiring management strategies.

Tic Disorder Causes

The exact causes of tic disorders are not fully understood. However, research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role. It is believed that abnormalities in certain brain regions, particularly the basal ganglia and frontal cortex, may contribute to the development of tics.

Genetic factors also seem to be involved, as tic disorders often run in families. However, having a genetic predisposition does not guarantee the development of tics, and additional triggers may be necessary for their manifestation.

Tic Disorder Diagnosis

Diagnosing a tic disorder involves a thorough evaluation of the individual’s medical history and a physical examination. The healthcare provider will assess the type, frequency, and duration of tics, as well as any associated symptoms. It is important to rule out other medical conditions that may mimic tics, such as seizures or movement disorders.

In some cases, additional tests, such as neuroimaging or blood tests, may be ordered to rule out underlying neurological or metabolic causes. A diagnosis of a tic disorder is made when tics are present for at least one year, with onset before the age of 18.

Tic Treatment

While there is no cure for tic disorders, various treatment options can help manage and reduce tic symptoms. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of tics and their impact on daily functioning.

Tic Management

1. Education and Support: Understanding tic disorders and their impact can help individuals and their families cope better. Support groups and counseling can provide valuable emotional support and practical advice.

2. Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral interventions, such as habit reversal training (HRT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP), can be effective in managing tics. HRT involves identifying the premonitory urge and teaching the individual to engage in a competing response instead of the tic. ERP focuses on breaking the cycle of tic behavior by gradually exposing the person to situations that trigger tics and preventing the tic response.

3. Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help control tic symptoms. The most commonly used medications are antipsychotics, such as haloperidol or risperidone. These medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of tics, but they may also have side effects that need to be carefully monitored.

4. Stress Management: Stress and anxiety can exacerbate tic symptoms. Learning stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in relaxing activities, can help reduce tic frequency.

Tic Disorder in Adults

Tic disorders can persist into adulthood, although the frequency and severity of tics may decrease over time. Adults with tic disorders may face unique challenges, such as social stigma and difficulties in the workplace. However, the same management strategies used for children can also be effective for adults.

It is important for adults with tic disorders to seek support and treatment if needed. Working with healthcare professionals and implementing appropriate strategies can help minimize the impact of tics on daily life.


Tics can be disruptive and distressing, but with the right management strategies, individuals with tic disorders can lead fulfilling lives. Understanding the causes of tics, seeking an accurate diagnosis, and implementing appropriate treatment options can significantly improve tic symptoms and overall well-being. Whether it is through education, therapy, medication, or stress management techniques, there are effective ways to manage tics and regain control.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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