Tourette syndrome (TS) is an inherited nervous system disorder. People with TS have motor and vocal tics, which are rapid, involuntary movements or sounds that occur repeatedly. These tics are not dangerous but can cause social stress. Treatment focuses on therapy to develop habits to help manage tics. Medication may be needed in severe cases, but these medications can have difficult side effects.

Researchers wanted to evaluate whether acupuncture is effective and safe for alleviating the symptoms of TS. Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needs in the body surface. In patients with TS, it is thought to regulate abnormal brain function. This study, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that acupuncture alone or in combination with drug therapy may reduce tic severity compared to drug therapy alone in patients with TS.

About the study

The systematic review of 7 randomized controlled trials included 564 TS patients in China ranging from 2-21 years old. The acupuncture types included were manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture, or scalp acupuncture. The medications included were haloperidol, risperidone, or tiapride. The treatment duration ranged from 20 days to 3 months. Treatment frequency was once a day.

Five of the studies compared acupuncture with one of the medications. Another compared acupuncture plus psychological behavior therapy with haloperidol plus psychological behavior therapy.

Two studies estimated the effect of acupuncture as an adjuvant therapy of Western medicine. One compared acupuncture plus haloperidol versus haloperidol alone and the other compared acupuncture plus haloperidol and psychological therapy versus haloperidol and psychological therapy.

Changes in symptoms were measured using the same scale. Compared to drug therapy, the review found:

  • Acupuncture alone was associated with more than a 30% higher response rate on the scale (5 trials) and an improvement in tic severity on the scale (2 trials)
  • Acupuncture plus drug therapy was associated with a nonsignificant increase in the likelihood of response on the scale (2 trials) and an improvement in tic severity on the scale (2 trials)

How Does this Affect You?

A systematic review combines a number of smaller trials to create a larger pool of participants. The larger the pool of participants, the more reliable the outcomes are. However, the quality of the smaller trials will also affect the reliability of the outcomes. The studies included here were small trials that had some quality issues., The participants knew which group they were in, which could have affected how the patient reacted to treatments. The studies also used differing acupuncture types, so we are unclear about effect of each type. We also cannot say whether acupuncture would reduce tics in the long term since the longest trial was only 3 months.

According to this review, there were no adverse events reported from the acupuncture groups. If you are having difficulty managing tics, talk to your doctor about other options such as acupuncture. While one strategy may work for one person, it may not work for another. For example, it may be difficult for children to sit still during acupuncture.

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 01/2018 -