Sensory Hypersensitivity Severity and Association with Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in Adults with Tic Disorder

Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2020 Nov 2;16:2591-2601. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S274165. eCollection 2020.


Background: Sensory hypersensitivity, defined as heightened awareness of and reactivity to external stimuli, is a bothersome symptom that affects up to 80% of adults with Tourette syndrome (TS). Such widespread prevalence suggests sensory hypersensitivity is a core feature of the disorder, but its severity and association with other clinical features of TS remain largely unexplored. Complicating matters, sensory hypersensitivity has been observed in two neurodevelopmental disorders commonly comorbid with TS: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Objective: We sought to measure sensory hypersensitivity in TS patients relative to healthy controls and to investigate the relationship of sensory hypersensitivity with OCD and ADHD symptoms in the context of TS.

Methods: We recruited 34 adults with TS or chronic tic disorder to undergo evaluation with the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale (YGTSS) and a battery of validated self-report instruments assessing sensory hypersensitivity (Sensory Gating Inventory, SGI; Sensory Perception Quotient, SPQ), premonitory urge (Premonitory Urge to Tic Scale, PUTS), OCD (Dimensional Obsessive-Compulsive Scale, DOCS), and ADHD (Adult ADHD Self-Report Screening Scale for DSM-5, ASRS-V). Age- and sex-matched healthy controls were recruited to complete SGI and psychiatric measures.

Results: SGI and SPQ scores strongly correlated (r s = -0.73, p < 0.0001) within patients. SGI total score was significantly higher in patients versus controls (119.0 vs 67.6, U =-5.3, p < 0.0001), indicating greater sensory hypersensitivity in the tic disorder group. SGI score correlated modestly with PUTS, DOCS, and ASRS-V scores but not with YGTSS total tic score. Hierarchical linear regression analysis revealed that, of the tested variables, only DOCS score contributed significantly to mean SGI score, with β ranging from 1.03 (p = 0.044) to 1.41 (p = 0.001). A simple linear regression model with DOCS as the independent variable accounted for 31.9% of SGI score variance.

Conclusion: Sensory hypersensitivity is prominent in adults with tic disorder and is independently associated with obsessive-compulsive symptom severity.

Keywords: Tourette syndrome; obsessive-compulsive symptoms; sensory hypersensitivity; sensory sensitivity; tic disorder.

Grant support

The project was supported by CTSA award No. UL1 TR002243 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.