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're sniffing and coughing
  • vision problems – if they're blinking more than usual

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

  • autistic spectrum disorder – a developmental disorder which 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 affecting 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, such as computerised tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, can also be used to check for any brain or nervous system abnormalities suggesting a neurological cause for your child’s symptoms, other than Tourette’s syndrome. However, most children with tics or Tourette’s syndrome don't require a brain scan.

Confirming the diagnosis

There's 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 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 they 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, including available treatments and support.

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

Page last reviewed: 05/01/2015

Next review due: 01/01/2018