Tics Tics are involuntary, rapid and repetitive contractions of a group of muscles that may cause either a movement (a motor tic) or the production of a sound (a vocal tic).

It is possible for tics to be accompanied by a more complex behaviour. It is usually the muscles of the face, the head and the neck that take part in motor tics; common movements observed in motor tics include blinking, lip smacking, facial twitching, grimacing and shrugging of the shoulders.

Vocal tics, on the other hand, comprise coughing, grunting or throat clearing. Tics differ in their intensity. Severe tics are not a widespread phenomenon though they may occur. These normally make one feel frightened and uncomfortable. One of the foremost things to known about tics is that they are unintentional. To put plainly, one cannot control them.

However, some people report a strong desire to move, possibly related to stress. Other people confirm that they do manage to suppress their tics for a while; this does not seem like an efficient technique, however, as eventually the tic materializes. Tics fall within several categories that are outlined below.

Tics Disorders

One in ten children is said to develop a transient (simple) tic sometime during their school years. Transient tics generally affect only one muscle group and usually appear for no more than a few months. Sometimes, children with such simple tics keep exhibiting them for years ahead. Among the transient motor tics are blinking, squinting, snapping the fingers, jerking the head and wrinkling the nose.

Transient vocal tics are less common and appear in the form of gurgling or humming. Tics may give rise to unusual, even weird behaviour, such as touching objects or licking. Fatigue or overexcitement can instigate transient tics in children but these are not harmful and do not require treatment. They subside or disappear entirely in a sleeping state.

Chronic Tics

Chronic tics are usually more difficult to handle. First of all, they may show up for years on end. Second, they are likely to sustain changes. In most cases, there is no need for chronic tics to be approached in a special way. Nevertheless, they can be disruptive, especially if the child is aware of the fact that others find them strange. One may suffer from several different tics, in which case they are referred to as chronic multiple tics.

Tourette Syndrome

Chronic tics may also point to Tourette syndrome. This is a neurological disorder characterized by multiple motor and vocal tics. These can be really serious and are often fluctuating. Tourette syndrome typically starts in early childhood, varies in intensity and does not easily fade. Sometimes the disorder is especially harmful and embarrassing since vocal tics may induce the uncontrollable use of obscene language (known as coprolalia) and the repetition of phrases that the affected person has heard from others (called echolalia).

Tourette syndrome subjects can also suffer from a series of psychological problems, among which the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and self-harm behaviour. No precise connection between Tourette’s and these abnormalities has been established. Similarly to the causes of tics in general, the underlying reason for Tourette syndrome remains unknown though scientists uphold that genetics is pertinent. According to them, a particular gene makes some people more susceptible than others to environmental factors that may also influence the condition.

Treatment of Tics

People in whom disruptive tics keep appear are strongly advised to seek psychological support and counseling. Moreover, the cognitive behavioural therapy may better some people’s skills to control their condition. The tics themselves are best appeased with medication.

Some of the drugs, however, primarily the potent ones (haloperidol, pimozide, fluphenazine and clonidine), are known for their unfavourable side effects. Statistics show that as much as 70 per cent of Tourette syndrome subjects have tried drugs but most people choose to deal with their condition without medication. The following ideas are worth considering:

• There is no need to panic if your child develops a tic as most of them are mild and transient;
• Most tics do not affect life or school in a negative way and do not require treatment;
• People on stimulant drugs (if treating ADHD, for example) may develop tics but these normally wane once the drug is stopped;
Tics are almost invariably aggravated because of stress. Since every health condition can be worsened by stress, relaxation and biofeedback should be given proper attention.