Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and tic disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome, frequently co-occur. A person with both ADHD and tics can receive treatment to help them manage symptoms of both conditions.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause issues with attention and impulse control. While ADHD itself does not cause involuntary movement, evidence suggests that people with ADHD are more likely to experience tics.

Common symptoms of ADHD include excessive talking, fidgeting, and difficulty waiting one’s turn. In certain cases, individuals with this condition also experience tics. This term can refer to involuntary actions that include motor tics, such as repetitive limb movements, or vocal tics, such as grunting or throat clearing.

In this article, we discuss the relationship between ADHD and tic disorders.

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Many health conditions may occur along with ADHD. These can include behavior disorders and learning disorders, such as dyslexia, as well as mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. People with ADHD also have a higher risk of developing a tic disorder such as Tourette’s syndrome (TS).

A 2016 study suggests that ADHD, TS, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and autism may be part of a spectrum of conditions with overlapping causes. Research indicates that genetics likely plays a role in the relationship between these conditions. In a 2021 study, researchers identified certain genes that are common among people with ADHD, TS, OCD, and autism.

Overall, ADHD is the most common condition that occurs along with TS. Some evidence suggests that 52% of children with TS may also have ADHD. However, other research indicates that as many as 80% of people with TS also have ADHD. Changes to brain regions that control impulsivity and attention may lead to the development of both conditions.

Do stimulants cause or worsen tics?

Older research suggested that stimulant medications for ADHD may result in the development of tics. However, newer studies indicate that taking stimulants for ADHD does not increase the chance of developing a tic disorder.

While rare case studies exist suggesting that stimulants could worsen tics, most evidence indicates that they are more likely to relieve symptoms, and any worsening is likely to be coincidental. Additionally, the American Academy of Neurology practice guidelines note that methylphenidate, which is a stimulant, is effective in reducing tic severity and ADHD symptoms.

Click here to learn more about ADHD medications.

What is Tourette’s syndrome?

People who experience ADHD and tics may find that their symptoms resolve on their own over time. However, in certain cases, tics may be a sign of a tic disorder such as TS. TS is a neurological condition that causes involuntary, repetitive movements or sounds. These tics vary among individuals and range from mild to severe.

Individuals with TS may experience simple tics such as blinking, facial movements, throat clearing, or sniffing. They may also have more complex tics, such as twisting the head and shrugging the shoulders or repeating phrases they hear from others.

Certain triggers may cause or worsen tics. Wearing a tight shirt might lead to neck or shoulder tics. Hearing someone else cough or sniff could also trigger these tics.

People with TS cannot control these tics, but treatment can help reduce their frequency. In many cases, tics lessen in severity as people with TS become adults. Some of these individuals may experience no tics at all as adults.

Research has shown that children with ADHD and a tic disorder can benefit from certain ADHD medications. These may include:

In some instances, it may be possible for certain medications or dosages to worsen tic symptoms in children with ADHD. In such cases, a doctor can prescribe different medications and adjust dosages to find out what works best. Although it might take some trial and error, many children with ADHD generally see tic improvement when using medication.

In addition to medication, there are many other treatment options available for TS and other tic disorders. For example, behavioral therapy can help individuals manage their tics. Although it cannot cure a tic disorder, it can reduce the frequency and severity of tics.

Another option for treating both ADHD and a tic disorder is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a type of noninvasive brain stimulation therapy. This noninvasive process creates electrical activity that stimulates cortical neurons. Studies have shown that TMS can improve symptoms for people with ADHD and TS. It is particularly effective for younger people with these conditions.

Individuals with symptoms of ADHD should visit a medical professional for a full evaluation. These symptoms may include:

  • forgetting or overlooking details
  • having trouble following conversations
  • interrupting other people while they are talking
  • being prone to distraction
  • talking excessively
  • fidgeting or squirming
  • losing things frequently

A doctor can examine children or adults with these symptoms. If an individual meets the criteria for ADHD, they can receive a diagnosis and begin exploring treatment options.

People with ADHD are also more likely to have a tic condition such as TS. Symptoms of tic disorders can include:

  • blinking repeatedly
  • clearing the throat frequently
  • humming involuntarily
  • repeating words or phrases
  • shrugging the shoulders

It is also advisable for individuals with symptoms of a tic disorder to visit a medical professional. They can conduct an examination and determine whether a tic disorder is present with ADHD. While tics can be a sign of a disorder, they may also be a temporary experience that resolves after childhood.

Seeking help as soon as symptoms occur is important for determining the cause behind them. With the right support and treatment plan, people with ADHD and tics can manage symptoms.

ADHD can coexist with other conditions, such as OCD, autism, and tic disorders. While ADHD itself does cause tics, ADHD and tic disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome, frequently co-occur.

While older research suggested a link between ADHD medication and the development of a tic disorder, more recent evidence suggests this is not the case, and these medications are instead effective for treating both ADHD and tics.

If a person is displaying symptoms of both ADHD and tics, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a diagnosis. A doctor will be able to provide a multimodal treatment plan, which may include medications and behavioral therapies, to help a person manage their symptoms.