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What Is Transient Tic Disorder?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Transient tic disorder is a common childhood affliction. It is characterized by uncontrollable, subtle muscle twitches or vocal sounds such as grunts or clicks. The condition is usually short-lived, lasting for less than one year. There is no cure for transient tic disorder, and most doctors simply encourage parents to avoid drawing attention to the problem and wait for symptoms to improve on their own. Behavioral therapy and medications may be considered if a child's tics become severe enough to affect school and home life.

The exact causes of transient tic disorder are not well understood. It appears that symptoms may be both physiological and psychological in nature. Like more serious tic disorders, such as Tourette syndrome, a child may have a mild brain defect or chemical deficiency that causes unusual electrical activity. As a result, the central nervous system can trigger sporadic muscle spasms. Environmental factors such as stress and fatigue seem to make tics worse in many patients, indicating a psychological link to the problem.

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Each case of transient tic disorder is different. Some children experience only one type of tic, such as an urge to blink one eye or smack their lips. Others experience multiple tics that occur at the same time or in succession. Common facial tics include grimacing, sticking out the tongue, and flaring the nostrils. A child may also clinch his or her fists, kick, raise one arm, or shrug a shoulder. Vocalizations such as snorting, grunting, or hissing may occur as well.

In most cases, transient tic disorder symptoms are hardly noticeable and they do not seriously affect a child's daily life. Parents who observe a worsening problem should schedule a doctor's visit. The physician can evaluate symptoms and perform a series of diagnostic tests to see if problems are related to a more serious condition. Electroencephalographs, magnetic resonance imaging scans, and blood tests help to rule out seizure disorders, viral infections, and obvious brain defects. If no underlying problem can be found, the doctor generally schedules periodic checkups over the course of a year to see if tics start to improve.

Parents, siblings, and teachers can help a child with transient tic disorder by simply ignoring it. Bringing attention to the problem, even in the form of sympathy, can increase the child's awareness and anxiety which can cause symptoms to worsen. If tics become frequent or serious enough to disrupt daily life, doctors can consider prescribing muscle relaxers or anxiety-reducing medications. Many older children and adolescent patients benefit from regular sessions with counselors who can help them understand the disorder and learn about different stress-reducing techniques.

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