Tourette's disorder

Published: March, 2014

"My neck cranes to the right, then the muscles of the left side of my face and neck contract, squinting my left eye and tilting my head briefly forward. My left arm arises until my hand halts directly in front of my face. I am frozen for a moment; I emit a tiny — almost inaudible — whoop. And then I go back to my writing for half a minute or so until a whole collection repeats itself. ... I am in a university library, surrounded by strangers, and so I painstakingly sublimate these tics, disguising them as stretches, glances around the room, and throat clearing." – P.J. Hollenbeck, 2003

The symptoms were first described more than a hundred years ago by the French neurologist Gilles de la Tourette, and his name has been given to the disorder now regarded as the most common cause of tics — brief intermittent involuntary or semi-voluntary movements or sounds. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis of Tourette's disorder requires many motor tics (movements) and at least one vocal or phonic tic (sound), with symptoms beginning before age 18 and lasting more than a year.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

New subscriptions to Harvard Health Online are temporarily unavailable. Click the button below to learn about our other subscription offers.

Learn More »