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December 04, 2017Posted in: Tourette Blog Tagged:

Tics and OCD: Defining the difference

By Melissa C. Water

A fine line can develop between Tourette Syndrome and OCD, and one condition can often be mistaken for the other.

  • Both tics and OCD can manifest as movements or words
  • Both are the result of a strong urge to perform certain gestures.

Considering these similarities, how can we tell which is OCD and which are tics?

  • A tic has no reasoning behind it
  • A tic is spontaneous and not the result of satisfying a personalized inner logic
  • OCD is an anxiety focused obsession and compulsion
  • OCD has an inner purpose even if that reasoning to that purpose doesn’t make sense

As an example, I sometimes have a tic where I tap my leg a few times. The amount of times is irrelevant. The movements are formed spontaneously and do not have to be performed in any exact way. I often don’t realize what I’m about to do until the tic is complete, leaving no room for reflection or thought.

The manifestation of OCD in tapping, for me, needs to occur in either threes or sevens. Without tapping those exact numbers, distress is created that can’t be satisfied without the correct series of taps. The tapping may not have been planned much in advance, but there is strategic purpose behind it.

After tapping seven times, I might say the number seven aloud.

Speaking due to an urge might sound like it must be a tic, but even OCD can emerge vocally.

If I’m over-checking my alarm clock, then I might repeat aloud the time I’m setting it to. I may also slowly enunciate the fact that it’s set to AM and not PM. The verbal cues alleviate my anxiety and are more in the context of reassurances and satisfying obsessions than in spontaneous outbursts.

There are instances where the lines between spontaneity and obsession are blurred more than usual. For instance if I start tapping out of an urge to tic but only tap six times, my OCD may feel upset by this and complete the tic by taking it to seven taps. This kind of mixture has a few coined phrases such as Tic-Pulsion, or Compultic.

Importance shouldn’t be placed so much in the label but in self-understanding. We don’t have to fit any cookie-cutter description to any one condition. What matters is the ability to grasp the situation, and in consequence, find the best solution to our situation.


To contact Melissa, email her at virtual@tourette.ca.

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