Diagnosing Tourette's syndrome 

The first stage in diagnosing Tourette’s syndrome is to rule out other possible causes of your child’s symptoms.

Other possible causes include:

  • allergies – if they are sniffing and coughing
  • vision problems – if they are blinking more than usual

It is also necessary to rule out other conditions that can cause tic-like behaviours, such as:

  • autistic spectrum disorder – a developmental disorder that causes problems with social interaction, learning and behaviour, and may cause mannerisms or stereotypies (repetitive movements) that can be mistaken for tics 
  • dystonia – a condition that causes involuntary muscle spasms 

To help rule out these conditions, your child may be referred to a number of experts, such as:

  • a neurologist – a doctor who specialises in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system
  • a psychiatrist – a doctor who specialises in treating mental health conditions
  • an educational or clinical psychologist – healthcare professionals who work with children who have learning, developmental or behavioural difficulties

Brain-imaging scans can also be used to check for any brain or nervous system abnormalities that could suggest a neurological cause for your child’s symptoms, other than Tourette’s syndrome. However, most children with tics or Tourette’s syndrome do not require a brain scan.

Scans that can be used include a:

  • computerised tomography (CT) scan – where a series of X-rays are taken to build up a detailed 3D image of the brain
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – where strong magnetic fields are used to produce a detailed image of the inside of the brain

Confirming the diagnosis

There is currently no single test for Tourette’s syndrome. A diagnosis can only be made by assessing your child’s symptoms to see whether they follow the pattern that is usually associated with the syndrome.

A confident diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome can usually be made if your child:

  • has symptoms that are not being caused by other medical conditions or any medication you are taking
  • started having tics before 18 years of age
  • has had several physical tics and at least one vocal tic
  • has tics that occur many times during the day, virtually every day
  • has been having tics for at least a year

Tourettes Action

If your child is diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, you may want to find out as much as you can about it and the available treatments and support.

A good place to start is the website of Tourettes Action, which is a UK charity for people with the syndrome.

Page last reviewed: 10/01/2013

Next review due: 10/01/2015