Medicine

Understanding how tics are suppressed may help some at risk for tic disorders

Studying children shortly after they began experiencing tics, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that although tics don’t go away, most children are able to suppress and control them. Understanding how they do that may provide insight to help others at risk for significant tic disorders. (Image: Michael Worful)

At least 20 percent of elementary school-age children develop tics such as excessive blinking, throat clearing or sniffing, but for most of those kids, the tics don’t become a long-term problem. Conventional wisdom has held that most tics go away on their own and that only in rare cases do they become chronic or develop into a disorder such as Tourette syndrome.

However, studying children shortly after tics first appear, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that tics don’t go away completely; rather, most children simply exhibit tics less when others are watching. Learning how they do that may provide insight to help others at risk for significant tic disorders.

The findings are published online June 26 in the Journal of Child Neurology.

“We found that tics were still present one year after they first appeared but that many of the kids we studied had figured out how to suppress them,” said principal investigator Kevin J. Black, MD, a professor of psychiatry. “Uncovering just how they are able to control these tics may help other children do the same and perhaps avoid chronic tic disorders such as Tourette syndrome.” Chronic tic disorders affect about 3% of the population, he added.

The researchers examined 45 children who had just started experiencing some sort of tic. The kids were ages 5 to 10, with an average age of about 7 ½.

Thirty of the children were boys — in whom tic disorders are more common — and the other 15 were girls. All of the children were examined within a few months of when their tics first appeared, and a second time 12 months after the tics had started.

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