Each of us, when upset, could feel dry mouth, reddening or grunting. A symptom of stress, but also other disorders, can also be nervous tics occurring in both children and adults. Tics are sudden, cyclical movements or gestures. They are single, or they can repeat themselves according to specific patterns. 

The cause of tic disorders is not fully understood. If you notice tics in yourself or your child, seek help from a specialist, in some cases an attempt to control the tics and exercise may bring a positive result. Tics are compulsive, repetitive, and stereotypical actions, foreshadowed by feelings of anxiety. They are involuntary, although they can sometimes be stopped briefly. 

Nerve tics are divided into simple and complex tics. Simple tics are spasms that occur in small groups of muscles in a given part of the body, such as spasms of the facial muscles around the eyelids, shaking the head, or trembling a finger in the hand. Complex tics cover a larger area of ​​the body, several groups of muscles. Nervous tics can also be classified according to their frequency of occurrence. There are indefinite, transient, and chronic tics.

What is a tic?

Scientists have been dealing with the problem of tics since the 20th century. Initially, its psychological background was indicated, but the organic causes were also accepted. The cause of tic disorders is not fully understood. As mentioned above, it was initially thought that tics were psychological in origin. Georges Gilles de la Tourette and other researchers were inclined to this view. However, this sentence was changed in 1968 when another famous psychologist, Arthur K. Shapiro, announced that tics could be treated with drugs. Since then, the scientific world has been inclined to believe that tic disorders are found to be organic.

It has been found that some people suffering from the described disease have abnormalities in the brain structures, including those in the basal ganglia and cortex. Currently, tic disorders are defined as bordering on neurology and psychiatry and are called neurobehavioral disorders.

In general, tics can be defined as “sudden, repetitive movements, gestures or vocalizations that typically mimic an aspect of normal behavior.” Their strength or intensity may vary. Some are single, others coexist in a specific pattern. The diagnosing of tic disorders is mostly made by a psychologist, psychiatrist, internist, and pediatrician based on the patient’s symptoms and observation.

Tics often appear in children who are of school age. Their peak is usually 10-11 years of age. Moreover, this disorder occurs twice as often in boys than in girls.

Types of nervous tics

Types of nervous tics

Nervous tics can be divided due to the different types of symptoms and situations in which the phenomenon of tics may be activated.

We are talking about:

  • motor tics;
  • vocal tics;
  • sensory tics

Motor tics are spontaneous, pointless, sudden, rapid, short-term, coordinated, and non-rhythmic contractions of functionally related muscles of one or more parts of the body, occurring based on normal motor activity. Motor tics appear unexpectedly or are preceded by a non-specific unpleasant sensation of discomfort or tension. These tics can be simple or complex, and have similar symptoms:

  • frowning,
  • blinking eyes,
  • mouth opening,
  • raising an eyebrow,
  • head shaking,
  • touching nose,
  • touching other people,
  • biting the lips,
  • kicking or jumping

Vocal tics, otherwise known as respiratory tics, are the involuntary making of sounds or words. They often resemble normal sounds or words and are perceived by patients as deliberate vocalizations. Such tics are characterized by a short duration, sudden, spontaneous, and repetitive occurrence, and variability in intensity. They are also simple and complex.

Sensory tics are short-term and repetitive somatic sensations on or near the skin that are located in a specific part of the body. They are referred to as stereotypical, “unusual” and have a typical repetitive localization. Symptoms of sensory tics may include:

  • skin tingling sensation,
  • itching, tickling,
  • feeling hot

The following types of tics are distinguished:

  • transient,
  • chronic,
  • Tourette syndrome.

A characteristic period of the transient tics appearance is preschool age, tics usually affect the facial muscles, less often other muscle groups. They last for weeks or months. If the tics last longer, they are considered chronic ones.

Chronic tics typically involve several muscle groups (involuntary head movements, trunk, and limb movements). Sometimes they are similar in their nature to specific activities and therefore it is not easy to distinguish them from intrusive activities. This disorder may include vocal tics.

Tourette syndrome

Tourette syndrome

Tourette syndrome is a tic disease. The essence of this disease is the occurrence of rapid, repetitive involuntary movements that affect different muscle groups (the so-called motor tics). Characteristic for this disorder is the occurrence of vocal tics consisting of independent, rapid, repeated making of various sounds or pointless, persistent pronouncing a syllable or word, and speech disorders.

Persistent tics of numerous muscle groups of considerable intensity, including pronounced vocal tics, prompted the diagnosis of this syndrome. The ticks can appear simultaneously or at different times. It is characteristic that tics appear many times a day in attacks. The symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome can sometimes make it impossible to lead a normal lifestyle. Among the symptoms occurring in children (most often around the age of 10) there is coprolalia – uttering vulgar words. Scientists explain that children swear because they repeat words they hear from other people or, for example, on television. This phenomenon is called echolalia. 

Tics very often occur in series that can be considered attacks of the disease. Symptoms must be present for at least a year for this disease to be diagnosed. Usually, Tourette Syndrome appears before the age of 18. The onset of the disease most often occurs at the age of 7-8 years, and complex vocal and motor tics join after several years of its duration. The most characteristic accompanying symptoms are obsessions and compulsions.

Tic disorders can vary in severity: from minimal (single, occasionally appearing tics) to severe Tourette’s syndrome, when very frequent tics prevent normal functioning. The severity of tics changes over time, reaching its apogee nearly 10 years after the onset of symptoms.