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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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February 2001

Q. I am a 43 year old woman and have had a tic all my life. Specifically, I move my shoulder without realizing it frequently. I also sniff a lot. I recently read acute sinusitis or recurring strep infections may be at the root of tics. I frequently get both of these. Is there anything that I can do to "cure" these tics, perhaps medicine to take? As I get older the tics have become more frequent and noticeable. I live in North Carolina and have never seen a doctor about this... too embarrassing. Thank you.

A. The movements you describe are quite characteristic of tics. Tic affects about 10-20 people per 100,000 in the U.S. They are involuntary muscle contractions, often involving the face or trunk, and in some cases include grunts or vocalization. The cause of tic is not known; about 10-20 people per 100,000 in the U.S. are affected. The disorder can appear in childhood; some tics will last briefly and disappear, while others persist. Tics usually worsen with stress and are absent or improved during sleep. As your symptoms have been present for a long time, but are now getting worse, it would be worth seeing a neurologist. The doctor may wish to do an EEG, a recording of the brain's electrical activity, to see if this might be a type of seizure. Depending on the results, medication might be tried to lessen the symptoms. Biofeedback and relaxation training can be helpful as well.




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