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What are the Most Common Causes of Tics in Children?

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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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Tourette's syndrome, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder are common causes of tics in children. Tics are repeated, intermittent sounds or physical movements. In children, tics can cause embarrassment, making social situations awkward. Determining the cause of the tics is a first step to treatment. While tics in children often resolve on their own, for some they can become a lifetime disorder.

When a child has tics, he or she senses the need to release the tic building before it happens. Tics involving coughing, grunting, twitches of the face, or shoulder shrugging are called simple tics. Complex tics include a repeated pattern of movements, repeating recently heard words and phrases, or a combination of sounds and movements. The need to release the tic increases if it is ignored and the pressure builds until it is released or allowed to happen. Many children attempt to incorporate the tics to look as if they were a natural part of their activities.

Tourette's syndrome causes tics in children and adults. A Tourette's diagnosis requires multiple motor tics combined with at least one vocal tic. Symptoms had to have begun before the child turned 21, and the tics had to alternately increase and decrease in intensity for at least a year. Stress exacerbates the frequency and force of the tics.

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Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often develop tics. It is estimated that 10 percent of boys with ADHD will develop tics as part of the disorder. A smaller percentage of ADHD girls will also have them. In 2011, the exact cause of tics was unknown; however, children that develop tic disorders typically have family members who also had childhood tics, leading experts to believe there is a genetic component to them.

Obsessive tics are driven by a compulsive psychological need. Their movements are more ritualistic in nature than other types of tics. The child feels something bad will happen if the compulsion or tic is not completed. Examples of common tics in OCD include needing to move body parts symmetrically, touch objects in a certain manner or certain number of times, and wash hands excessively throughout the day.

Prescription medications and behavioral therapies are available to reduce the frequency and severity of childhood tics. Children with tics should be medically evaluated to determine the cause. Tics often resolve on their own by the time the child hits adolescence, but for some children with tics, it is a lifetime condition.

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