tourettes brain

Tourette Syndrome: 10 Terms to Know

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neuropsychiatric disorder (mental disorder rooted in the nervous system). While TS is well known, it isn’t well understood. Here are ten terms to help you understand what having TS really entails. 

  1. Tic Disorder: TS is one of 3 major tic disorders; the other two include chronic tic disorder and provisional tic disorder. All three are characterized by the presence of a tic. While chronic and provisional types mean having a vocal or motor tic, TS patients must deal with both types (2 motor, 1 vocal). Time also plays a role in diagnosis. Tics must have been present for more than one year for TS or chronic type, and less than one year for provisional type.
  2. Vocal Tic: A vocal, or phonic, tic refers to those producing sound. This may mean a brief noise, called a simple vocal tic—such as clearing the throat, sniffing, or hooting. It can also be a complex vocal tic, composed of words or phrases that are repeated consistently and out of context. 
  3. Coprolalia: Coprolalia is a vocal tic involving words or phrases that are vulgar, ethnically insulting, or otherwise inappropriate. While this is the commonly purveyed distinguishing mark of TS, coprolalia occurs in less than 15% of TS patients. Some sources suggest the taboo nature of such words increase the compulsory nature. 
  4. Echolalia: Echolalia is another type of phonic tic sometimes seen in other psychiatric disorders as well. Rather than a repetitive word or phrase, the individual instead repeats those they hear from others. It is usually an almost immediate response and, as with other phonic tics, largely uncontrollable. 
  5. Palilalia: Palilalia is another type of language disorder common in psychiatric and degenerative disorders. Rather than echoing others, the individual echoes their own words. This complex phonic tic generally has some context, but is just as difficult to control as other tics.
  6. Motor Tic: A motor tic is a repetitive compulsory movement. Like vocal tics, they may get worse when the TS patient is excited, angry, or experiencing other heightened emotions. Unlike vocal tics, they can be self harming. 
  7. Simple Tic: Simple motor tics are just that—repetitive movements involving only one muscle group. This might mean bobbing the head, shrugging, blinking, or jerking. The individual may be able to momentarily restrain the urge, but with some difficulty.
  8. Complex Tic: Complex motor tics involve several muscle groups. These tics are still repetitive, but may have the appearance of being almost choreographed. Examples include a pattern of stepping, twirling, or repeating someone else’s movements.
  9. Premonitory Urge: In the moments before the tic, there is a feeling of onset called a premonitory urge. It may feel different to different people, since each case of TS is different. There might be a sense of discomfort in the body, an itch in a specific spot, or a tenseness. 
  10. Comorbid Conditions: TS patients often experience comorbid conditions that can heighten TS symptoms. Comorbid conditions are disorders that occur in tandem with TS. Common comorbid conditions of TS include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Learning, behavior, or social barriers also tend to co-occur. 
Last Updated: September 12, 2016