Transient TIc Disorder

Written by Brian Krans | Published on September 6, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What Is Transient Tic Disorder?

A tic is an abrupt, uncontrollable movement or sound that does not relate to a person’s normal gestures. For example, a person suffering from tics may blink rapidly and repeatedly, even if nothing is irritating his or her eyes.

Every person experiences tics differently and may suffer from either uncontrolled movements or noises. Tics are common in children and may last for less than one year. A child with transient tic disorder has noticeable physical or vocal tics. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that tics affect up to 10 percent of children during their early school years (AACAP, 2012).

The most notable tic disorder is Tourette syndrome, in which physical and vocal tics occur at the same time. Transient tic disorder also involves both types of tics, but they often occur individually.

What Causes Transient Tic Disorder?

There is no known cause of transient tic disorder. Like Tourette and other tic disorders, it is probably influenced by a combination of factors.

Some research indicates that tic disorders may be inherited. According to the Mayo Clinic, a genetic mutation has been identified as a cause of Tourette syndrome in rare cases (Mayo, 2012).

Abnormalities in the brain may also be responsible for tic disorders. Such abnormalities are the cause of other mental conditions, such as depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Some research suggests that transient tic disorder could be linked to neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in the brain that transmit nerve signals to your cells. However, no studies offer complete proof of the role neurotransmitters play. Medications to treat transient tic disorder are designed to alter neurotransmitter levels.

Symptoms of Transient Tic Disorder

Tic disorders include Tourette syndrome, chronic motor or vocal tic disorder, and transient tic disorder. Your doctor may diagnose you with tic disorder not otherwise specified if your symptoms do not fall into those categories.

Tics are often confused with nervous behavior. They intensify during periods of stress and do not happen during sleep. Tics occur repeatedly, but they do not usually have a rhythm.

People with tics may uncontrollably raise their eyebrows, shrug their shoulders, flare their nostrils, or clench their fists. These are physical tics. Sometimes, a tic can cause you to repeatedly clear your throat, click your tongue, or make a certain noise, such as a grunt or a moan.

How Is Transient Tic Disorder Diagnosed?

There is no sure test to diagnose transient tic disorder and other tic disorders. They are difficult to diagnose, as tics are sometimes associated with other conditions. For example, allergies might be blamed for a repeated sniffing or twitching of the nose.

If you are suffering from tics, your doctor will begin your medical evaluation by performing a physical exam and complete medical history. This will help to rule out an underlying medical condition as the cause of your symptoms.

Your doctor may need to order other tests—such as brain scans and blood tests—to determine if the tics are a symptom of something more serious, such as Huntington disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) set out a list of symptoms to identify the disorder.

Someone must have all of the following symptoms to be diagnosed with transient tic disorder (CDC, 2011):

  • one or more motor tics (such as blinking or shrugging the shoulders) or vocal tics (such as humming, clearing the throat, or yelling a word or phrase)
  • tics must occur often nearly every day for at least four weeks, but for not more than12 months in a row
  • tics must have started before 18 years of age
  • symptoms must not be a result of medication or drugs, or of another medical condition such as Huntington disease or post-viral encephalitis
  • you or your child must not have been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome or any other chronic motor or vocal tic disorder

Treating Transient Tic Disorder

Transient tic disorder often goes away without treatment in children. It is important that family members and teachers do not call attention to the tics. This can make the child more self-conscious and aggravate his or her symptoms.

A combination of therapy and medication may help in situations where the tics affect work or school. Because stress can make tics worse or more frequent, techniques to control and manage stress are important.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is also a useful way to treat tic disorders. During these sessions, a patient learns to avoid self-destructive actions by controlling his or her emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.

Medication cannot completely cure tic disorders, but it can ease symptoms for some people. Your doctor may prescribe a drug that reduces the dopamine in your brain, such as fluphenazine, haloperidol, or pimozide. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that may be linked to tics.

Your doctor could also treat your tic disorder with antidepressants. These drugs help treat symptoms of anxiety, sadness, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and may help with the complications of your disorder.

Living with Transient Tic Disorder

Living with transient tic disorder can be frustrating at times. However, the condition is manageable with proper treatment. Try to keep your stress at reasonable levels to help reduce your symptoms. Therapy and medication can help relieve symptoms in some cases.

Parents of children with transient tic disorder play an important role in providing emotional support and helping ensure their child’s education does not suffer.

Typically, tics disappear after a few months. However, parents should keep a watchful eye on changing symptoms. In some cases, transient tic disorder can develop into a more serious condition, such as Tourette syndrome.

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