Although experts do not fully understand the link, people with epilepsy are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This may be due to genetics, both conditions’ effects on the brain, treatments, or other reasons.

ADHD is a condition that affects a person’s ability to concentrate and may cause them to be more hyperactive. Epilepsy is a broad category of neurological disorders that cause seizures.

This article explores the connection between ADHD and epilepsy, the ways both conditions affect the brain, the similarities between their symptoms, and more.

There is a coral pattern.Share on Pinterest
Jovana Milanko/Stocksy United

While scientists are still working on finding the precise connection between the two conditions, they propose several possible links between ADHD and epilepsy:

  • Chance: Because both conditions are common in children and typically appear during childhood, it is possible that they occur together by chance. However, it is also possible that one condition increases the risk for the other.
  • Direct or indirect cause: ADHD may be a direct result of epilepsy’s effects on the brain, or it may be a side effect of antiseizure medication.
  • Adrenergic system dysfunction: Research suggests that people with ADHD and seizures have dysfunctions in the way their nerves communicate.
  • Genetics: People with epilepsy have a greater risk of developing ADHD if other family members also have epilepsy. This is possibly due to chromosomal abnormalities that families share.
  • Shared risk factors: Along with genetics, other risk factors for both conditions include low birth weight, advanced maternal age, exposure to environmental toxins, and socioeconomic factors.

While these two conditions commonly occur together, not everyone who has epilepsy will also have ADHD, and vice versa.

ADHD and epilepsy do not necessarily affect the same part of the brain.

ADHD primarily affects the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as attention, impulse control, and working memory.

On the other hand, seizures can arise from various areas of the brain. The specific affected region of the brain varies between individuals.

Learn more about ADHD and the brain.

Having both epilepsy and ADHD can affect symptoms and complicate the management of both conditions.

Symptoms of seizures may depend on where in the brain the seizures originate. They may worsen symptoms of ADHD.

For example, people with both epilepsy and ADHD may have greater symptoms of:

  • impaired memory and learning
  • impaired cognitive development
  • decreased ability to recognize threats and feel fear
  • increased impulsivity
  • poor sleep habits
  • reduced ability to focus or plan

Some research estimates that 20–50% of children with epilepsy also have ADHD. This is in contrast to 7–9% of children who have ADHD without epilepsy.

Research from 2015 reports that nearly 1 in 5 adults with epilepsy also have ADHD symptoms. In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2015 that only 1.2% of the general population had epilepsy.

Treating ADHD and epilepsy involves a combination of medications and behavioral therapy.

Several medications may help with both epilepsy and ADHD symptoms. These include:

  • Carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine: These medications improve ADHD-related inattention and mood symptoms and help people with partial epilepsy.
  • Levetiracetam: This medication helps treat ADHD in people who experience nighttime seizures.
  • Topiramate: This medication helps reduce behavioral symptoms in children with epilepsy and ADHD.

Other treatments for ADHD in people with epilepsy include stimulant and non-stimulant medications.

Newer research challenges the previous belief that stimulant medications increase seizure activity. Recent studies suggest that stimulant medications can help people safely and effectively manage ADHD symptoms without increasing the risk of seizures.

Doctors may consider non-stimulant medications when other medications do not effectively manage seizures or when stimulants cannot manage ADHD symptoms within proper dosing guidelines.

Behavioral therapy may be beneficial for some people with epilepsy and ADHD, especially if medical treatments are not effective. However, more research is necessary in this area.

Learn more about behavioral therapy for ADHD.

Here are some frequently asked questions about ADHD and epilepsy.

Can you take Adderall if you have epilepsy?

Adderall is a type of stimulant medication. Several recent studies suggest that taking stimulant medication for ADHD symptoms does not increase the risk of seizures, or hospitalization due to seizures, in people with epilepsy.

However, when deciding whether to use Adderall or any other stimulant medication for ADHD, a person with epilepsy should consult a doctor who is familiar with both conditions and with the person’s medical history and current medications.

Does having epilepsy make you neurodivergent?

The term “neurodivergent” refers to people whose development or functioning differs from the dominant, or “neurotypical,” population. The four main conditions that fall into this category are autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and developmental coordination disorder.

Although epilepsy can cause cognitive delays and differences in learning and behavior, experts do not typically consider it a neurodivergent condition.

Current research suggests a link between ADHD and epilepsy. Studies show a higher prevalence of ADHD in people with epilepsy, but experts do not yet fully understand the relationship.

Epilepsy may worsen the symptoms of ADHD. Treatment depends on each individual’s condition. A person’s doctor can discuss their treatment options and monitor their symptoms of ADHD and epilepsy.