Tourette syndrome: understanding the first signs in your child

Written by: Dr Inyang Takon
Edited by: Robert Smith

There are many preconceived ideas about what Tourette syndrome is. We wanted to find out exactly what this syndrome is, the signs and what causes it.

We spoke to Dr Inyang Takon who is an expert consultant paediatrician, she clarified for us what traits can be found in someone who has this condition and how common it is.

What is Tourette syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a form of tic disorder and occurs commonly in children and young people. Tics are involuntary movements that result in rapid and recurrent movements of various parts of the body or vocalisations. There are two main groups of tics: motor tics (affecting different muscle groups in the body) and vocal tics (resulting in patterns of sounds, noises or repeated phrases or words). Tourette syndrome is attributed when the person has both motor tics and vocal tics happening frequently and lasting at least one year. The tics usually start before the person is 18 years of age and is not caused by a medical illness.


How common is Tourette syndrome?

The terminology - ‘Tourette Syndrome’ - does tend to receive negative publicity due to myths surrounding this condition. Tourette syndrome is underdiagnosed and it can sometimes take several years before some children and young people are diagnosed. It is thought to affect between 0.5-3% of the population and males are more commonly affected than females.


What causes Tourette syndrome?

The exact cause of Tourette syndrome is not known, however scientists have identified some differences in the brain networks (collection of nerves) that controls our body movements. There are neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that help in carrying messages between nerves in the brain however researchers have found some imbalances in some of the brain chemicals that help with keeping our body movements smooth. Some people are more at risk of having Tourette syndrome such as relatives of people who have Tourette syndrome, people with OCD, anxiety and ADHD. There is still a lot of research being done about the cause of Tourette syndrome.


What are the signs of Tourette syndrome?

You may notice your child may start with having some facial tics. These may include eye blinking repeatedly, scrunching of the nose, rolling of the eyes, neck movements etc. Your child may also have bigger movements such as sudden body twisting, big arm, or leg movements, rapidly stretching arms out which is obvious to people around. Your child may also make some sudden sounds such as throat clearing sounds, coughing sounds, squeaking noises, humming noises. The movements and voice sounds vary but the striking thing is the fact that your child does them spontaneously and not intentionally. They may be more prominent when your child is focused watching something on television, or when your child is in the car or in some cases when your child is anxious or stressed.

These movements /patterns occur every day and go on for at least a year. Your child may not seem bothered by the tics but in some cases, the tics may prevent your child from doing what they want to do. Swearing is not a sign of Tourette syndrome, however, your child may spontaneously say some short phrases or utter inappropriate words.


If you would like to speak to a leading consultant paediatrician to treat a neurodevelopmental disorder such as Tourette, feel free to visit Dr Inyang Takon’s Top Doctors profile today.

By Dr Inyang Takon

Dr Inyang Takon is an expert consultant paediatrician with extensive clinical experience in the assessment and management of a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders.  Her areas of expertise include ADHD, Epilepsy, tic disorders including Tourette syndrome, developmental delay, motor coordination difficulties and Autsim Spectrum Disorder.

In 1988, Dr Takon qualified at the Prestigious University College Hospital, Ibadan,  Nigeria and then completed her general paediatrics training between 1992- 1997  before completing a Masters in Public Health . In 1999, she moved to the UK where she received academic training in community paediatrics at University College London. She  had further postgraduate paediatric training in general paediatrics, neonatology and community paediatrics in several hospitals in Scotland.  She then received additional training in paediatric epilepsy and neurology at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Dr Takon  completed an MSc in clinical neuropsychiatry at the University of Birmingham in 2014.

Dr Takon runs specialist epilepsy clinics for children with complex epilepsy and coordinates a joint outreach paediatric neurology clinic as well, where children with complex neurological difficulties are seen by a consultant paediatric neurologist. She is also experienced in assessing children with concerns relating to physical abuse and neglect. She is proactively involved in training and research and has carried out international research on both child epilepsy and developmental disorders, which have been published in several international journals.

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