What are ‘tics’?

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Please note: Articles on lived experiences can be a trigger for those with tics, OCD and anxiety disorders. Articles are intended to show we aren’t alone, and that help can improve quality of life.

Tics are the movements and/or sounds someone with Tourette Syndrome (TS) carries out.

Although everyone with Tourette Syndrome experiences tics, tics aren’t always due to Tourette Syndrome.

A Tourette diagnosis requires that a person has two motor tics, and at least one vocal tic. These tics must be present for more than one year.

Tics vary, a lot. They can vary in frequency, severity and how they look or sound.

It is also fascinating to know that tics don’t just vary from person to person. Tics can evolve over a persons lifetime.

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Medical definition of Tics

WebMD provides a more descriptive definition of tics:

There are two types of tics — motor tics and vocal tics. These short-lasting sudden movements (motor tics) or uttered sounds (vocal tics) occur suddenly during what is otherwise normal behavior. Tics are often repetitive, with numerous successive occurrences of the same action. For instance, someone with a tic might blink their eyes multiple times or twitch their nose repeatedly.

WebMD: Tic Disorders and Twitches

Those with TS may seem to have tics ‘out of the blue’. This is because there are little-to-no external signs of tics, the urge to tic often comes from a sensory urge or ‘itch’ within.

Tics are often compared to an itch

This ‘itch’ is more mental than physical, but acts in the same way. The itch comes, it stays until you either wait for it to leave or scratch it.

Tics have also been described as hiccup-like, some people describe a buildup of physical pressure inside the body.

A tic can be described as a voluntary action to relieve an involuntary sensory urge.

Some people however don’t feel a pre-sensory urge. A tic feels much more immediate and sudden.

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Tics can be simple or complex

Tics can occur in all kinds of ways. Sometimes, they can be unique to the environment, such as a coffee shop.

If this person has simple tics, they may make a small humming sound. They may need to tap their cup on the table or move it side to side.

If they have complex tics, they may pick up their coffee and throw it. They may need to say a whole sentence out loud or get off their chair completely and sit back on it.

A busy environment can increase tics

The difference between simple and complex depends on how many muscles are being used during a tic.

Someone can have simple tics that are very repetitive. Someone can complex tics that are not so frequent. 

Tics can have an ‘obsessional’ quality

Terms that may better describe behaviours combining both Tourette and OCD are Tourettic-OCD and ‘Just Right OCD’.

These tics have ‘obsessional’ qualities.

Some people with OCD reverse ‘bad’ thoughts with a ‘good’ one. This could be saying a ‘nice’ thing out loud (similar to vocal tics) to register it as a ‘cancelling out’ of the bad thought.

Other times, an ‘extra’ tic may be carried out.

If someone with Tourette has three blinking tics in a row, a fourth obsessional tic may be carried out if that person dislikes odd numbers.

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Tics are still misunderstood

The idea that everyone with Tourette’s swears is a myth.

Those that swear make up roughly 10% of the Tourette population. Because of this, it has been given it’s own name- Coprolalia.

Many sufferers are still accused of putting tics on, or not trying hard enough to hold them in. This is damaging and can really have an effect of mental health and well being. 

Myths and misinformation persist, but awareness is growing.

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Diet and tiredness can affect tics

Sufferers and studies alike have found that certain ingredients affect tics.

Foods containing sugars and caffeine can make tics worse, as well as some other more surprising ingredients.

Tics can worsen at certain times of the day, too.

Tiredness can lead to tics… that can lead to sleep problems… that can lead to increased caffeine intake. 

It can be a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of.

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Tourette doesn't reduce life expectancy

Tourette itself isn’t life threatening, nor does it reduce life expectancy.

However tics can lead to injury. Tourette can also increase the likeliness of behavioural issues, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

With awareness and professional help from a young age, the chances of this can be reduced.


To the contrary, most people with the condition go on to live normal, fulfilled lives. 

Some find their unique and creative side and go on to be incredibly successful. 

Billy Eilish is a great example, in this video she talks about living with Tourette.

So many factors affect tics

Tics can be affected by factors such as stress, excitement, screen time, diet and even the weather.

Because of this, our Tourette Syndrome homepage contains categories and articles to help you navigate the condition, whether you are a sufferer, family member or simply curious. 

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DISCLAIMER: Articles contain lived experiences, but cannot be used to diagnose. Medical advice can only come from trained professionals. 

Click here for the support finder, locating Tourette and OCD support wherever you are in the world.


Dealing with Disorder was created by a sufferer, struggling to find information to help manage the conditions.