ADHD and Epilepsy – Is There a Link?

13th September 2021

Findings from a 2015 study undertaken by Dr Allen Ettinger and published in the medical journal Epilepsia suggested that more than 18% of adults with epilepsy also had symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). 

Not only that, but children with ADHD have been found to be more at risk of having seizures, with 14% developing seizures. Studies have suggested that as many as 40 out of 100 children with epilepsy also have ADHD. This is in contrast with the statistic from the general population that just 7 to 9 children out of 100 have ADHD. 

With stats like these, it’s very easy to draw a correlation between epilepsy and ADHD and come to the conclusion that ADHD does, in fact, occur more frequently in people with epilepsy. 

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition whereby a person can have some difficulties holding concentration or become hyperactive for sustained periods of time. ADHD can present in three distinct ways:

  • Primarily inattentive
  • Primarily hyperactive
  • Combined 

Those who are primarily inattentive may have difficulty concentrating, frequently make careless mistakes, problems listening and being unorganised. Those who are predominantly hyperactive may fidget constantly, have difficulty relaxing, talk excessively and display impulsive behaviour. Someone with combined ADHD could display all of these traits. 

Living with and treating ADHD and epilepsy

For people with both ADHD and epilepsy, this can make life increasingly difficult. Treatment can be equally as challenging as some epilepsy medications can actually exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. On the other hand, there are also concerns that stimulant medications that are often used to treat ADHD can trigger seizures. 

People with both epilepsy and ADHD will need a care and treatment plan that addresses both of the conditions. In these cases there are specific things that need to be considered, including: 

  • How symptoms of ADHD can complicate epilepsy diagnosis and be mistaken for seizures. 
  • How seizure control should take priority and if successful can have a positive impact on ADHD. 
  • Treatment for symptoms of ADHD that remain once seizures are controlled should be treated to lessen stress and improve the person’s quality of life. 
  • Treatment and care plans should be reviewed on an annual basis at the minimum to ensure treatment for both ADHD and epilepsy remain effective. 

There may also be treatment options to consider outside of medication, including behavioural or cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching and skills training.

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