What Are The Different Types Of Tic Disorders?

Tics are usually quick, involuntary movements and sounds that can present in jolt-like motions and are often repetitive, says The National Health Service (NHS). Tics can be both flamboyant and subtle, and they are more common in children under the age of 5. When tics persist into adolescence and adulthood, or when they create disruptions to a person's daily life, then a tic disorder is typically diagnosed.

While Tourette's Syndrome is the most commonly known tic disorder, it is not the only type of tic disorder. According to Cedars Sinai, the type of tic disorder a person may be diagnosed with depends on the tics they exhibit, how long they have had tics, and how intrusive the tics can be. When it comes to tics themselves, there are vocal tics and motor tics. Vocal tics include grunting, throat clearing, sniffing, hissing, high-pitched noises, and saying words or phrases. Motor tics are physical tics, which include head jerking, blinking, hand motions, tapping, jumping, and other movements of the body. Some tics are so subtle that they are often not noticeable to other people. Of course, each person diagnosed with a tic disorder is unique and so are their tics, so there is no definition of exactly how tics will present.

Tourette's Syndrome

To be diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, a person's tics must last for at least a year and include both vocal and motor tics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some people diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome experience complex tics, which involve moving multiple body parts at once or saying several words, according to WebMD. In the United States, an estimated 100,000 people are living with fully-fledged versions of Tourette's Syndrome, but many more people experience milder forms of the disorder. The Tourette Association of America notes that Tourette's Syndrome is most often associated with the use of profanity, but that only one-third of people diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome express Coprolalia, the medical term for profane, obscene, and derogatory tics.

The CDC also reports that boys are as much as three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. In total, as many as 0.3% of children ages 6 to 17 are diagnosed with the condition. Tics can disappear as children age, but many people diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome continue to experience tics in adulthood. The cause is still being explored, but research suggests that it's caused by a gene mutation or the result of neonatal development (via KidsHealth).

There's no cure for Tourette's Syndrome, but there are several treatments that can help manage tics. According to Mayo Clinic, medications that can minimize tics include antidepressants, antiseizure, psychotherapy, and ADHD prescriptions. Botox injections can also help relieve both motor and vocal tics.

Chronic Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder

Also referred to as Persistent Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder, this type of tic disorder is characterized by the presence of either vocal or motor tics, according to the CDC. Unlike Tourette's Syndrome where a person experiences both motor and vocal tics, people diagnosed with Chronic Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder only exhibit one or the other type of tic. However, they can still experience multiple tics of that type. This means that a person might have numerous motor tics like blinking, snapping fingers, shrugging shoulders, or jerking limbs; or, they may have multiple vocal tics including coughing, grunting, snorting, hissing, or clicking the tongue. Of course, these aren't exhaustive lists of possible tics since tics can present in a variety of ways.

The diagnosis of Chronic Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder is given when tics are present daily for more than a year. They first begin before age 18, often appearing around age 5 and worsening until age 12 (via Mount Sinai). Tics usually subside in adulthood. 

Chronic Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder is actually more common than Tourette's Syndrome, although many of the treatments for the two tic disorders are very similar, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Since stress, exhaustion, and anxiety can increase tics, creating calm environments is a holistic way to manage them.

Provisional Tic Disorder

Provisional Tic Disorder, which is also called Transient Tic Disorder, is a disorder that is diagnosed after Tourette's Syndrome and Chronic Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder have been ruled out (per CDC). Sometimes Provisional Tic Disorder can develop after an infection caused by streptococcal, such as scarlet fever or strep throat. Additionally, the tics must not be a result of any other condition or side effect of medication.

Like Tourette's Syndrome and Persistent Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder, Provisional Tic Disorder is diagnosed when one or more vocal or motor tics are present, reports Healthline. To qualify for a diagnosis of Provisional Tic Disorder, tics must be present continuously for fewer than 12 months and the person must be under the age of 18. Referring to its namesake, the tics involved in Transient Tic Disorder tend to go away on their own as a child ages.

With any tic disorder, it is important that adults provide emotional support and that they don't bring attention to a child's tics so that the child doesn't become anxious or stressed, thus provoking an increase in tics (via Healthline). Cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful in managing tics and their effect on daily life. Since all tics are different, including intensity and impact, a healthcare provider should be consulted to come up with an individualized treatment plan.