Tics are fast, repetitive muscle movements that result in sudden and difficult to control body jolts or sounds.
They're fairly common in childhood and typically first appear at around five years of age. Very occasionally they can start in adulthood.
Tics aren't usually serious and normally improve over time. But they can be frustrating and interfere with everyday activities.
Tourette's syndrome, a term that's used when tics have lasted for more than a year, is covered separately.
There are many types of tic. Some affect body movement (motor tics) and others result in a sound (vocal or phonic tics).
Examples of tics include:
They often start with an unpleasant sensation that builds up in the body until relieved by the tic – known as an urge – although they can sometimes be partly suppressed.
Read more about common types of tics.
Tics aren't usually serious and they don't damage the brain.
You don't always need to see your GP if they're mild and not causing problems. Sometimes they can disappear as quickly as they appear.
See your GP if you're concerned about your or your child's tics, you need support or advice, or the tics:
Your GP should be able to diagnose a tic from a description of it and, if possible, seeing it. Recording a short video can be helpful, but be careful not to draw too much attention to the tic while filming as this can make it worse.
Treatment isn't always needed if a tic is mild and isn't causing any other problems. Self-help tips, such as avoiding stress or tiredness, are often very helpful for the majority of people.
If a tic is more severe and is affecting everyday activities, therapies that aim to reduce how often tics occur may be recommended.
The main therapies for tics are:
There are also medicines that can help reduce tics. These may be used alongside psychological therapies or after trying these therapies unsuccessfully.
Read more about how tics are treated.
In most cases, tics will improve significantly over time or stop completely.
Sometimes they may just last a few months, but often they tend to come and go over several years.
They tend to be at their most severe from around eight years of age until the teenage years, and usually start to improve after puberty.
Research suggests that:
It's not clear exactly what causes tics. They're thought to be due to changes in the parts of the brain that control movement.
They often seem to run in families, and there's likely to be a genetic cause in many cases. They also often occur alongside other conditions, such as: