Pediatric Neurology

Simple Tics Common in Childhood

Cardiology: Go Red for Women

Sudden, repetitive movements or sounds, tics are generally involuntary and common in childhood. Though they can be stopped voluntarily for brief periods, some patients experience frequent and severe tics that affect many areas of their life. There are different characterizations of tics, explains pediatric neurologist, Eric Vernier, M.D.

Treatment is usually based on the symptoms the patient experiences, as well as the concern of associated difficulties, including attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and behavior and learning problems. These usually require greater attention than the tics themselves.

Tics may be simple or complex; motor or vocal.

    Examples include:
  • Nose wrinkling, head twitching, eye blinking, lip biting and facial grimacing all of these are simple motor tics that involve a single muscle group.
  • Repetitive or obsessive touching, kicking or jumping are complex motor tics. These types of tics aren t as rapid as simple motor tics and can look like the person is voluntarily performing the action.
  • Simple vocal tics refer to coughing, throat clearing, grunting, sniffing, barking and hissing.
  • Complex vocal tics involve more meaningful speech, including words.

Tics can be transient which means they last at least four weeks, but less than 12 months, or chronic meaning they last more than a year, Dr. Vernier says. Transient tics are the most common and affect up to 10 percent of children during the early school years. Most often these go away by themselves without medical intervention. But, in some cases, they may worsen with anxiety, excitement, tiredness and some medications.

Dr. Vernier says there is another category children with Tourette syndrome, who have both physical and vocal tics. Children with Tourette s may also have problems with attention and learning disabilities, he says. They may act impulsively and/or develop obsessions and compulsions. Sometimes, people with Tourette s may blurt out obscene words, insult others or make obscene gestures or movements. These types of tics are rare.

Diagnosing tics is easy and does not require any additional tests, but should include a complete review of past medical history and any psychiatric conditions.

When it comes to treatment, medication may be used to control the symptoms, Dr. Vernier says. Habit reversal training a behavioral therapy may also be used. The child/adolescent psychiatrist can also advise the family about how to provide emotional support and the appropriate educational environment for the youngster. In severe cases, medication is required.

“"Tics can be transient which means they last at least four weeks, but less than 12 months, or chronic meaning they last more than a year,” Dr. Vernier says.”


Eric Vernier, M.D.
Pediatric Neurology
Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida
15901 Bass Road, Suite #108
Fort Myers, FL 33908



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