ADHD and Epilepsy in Adults Important Information

ADHD and Epilepsy in Adults Important Information

The Connection Between Epilepsy and ADHD

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July 13, 2023 – About 20 out of every 100 adults with epilepsy may also have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and new research shows the more uncontrolled seizures a patient has, the higher risk that patient has of having ADHD as well.

Both epilepsy and ADHD often begin early in life, and it’s estimated that 30% to 40% of children with epilepsy also have ADHD. With epilepsy affecting about 50 million people worldwide, researchers are striving to understand the connection between these two conditions.

A recent study from Taiwan found that ADHD and epilepsy share a common genetic background and many of the same chromosomal abnormalities. Additionally, both genetic and environmental factors appear to potentially play a role. For example, a family history of both epilepsy and ADHD accounted for 40% of the risk of having both conditions. The study also highlighted the impact of air pollution during childhood, showing that increased exposure to air pollution correlates with a higher likelihood of having a dual diagnosis of ADHD and epilepsy.

Epilepsy Seizure Types and Symptoms

According to Erin Fedak Romanowski, DO, a pediatric neurologist, it’s plausible that the same factors impacting children with ADHD and chronic epilepsy continue to affect them as adults. Identifying and treating both conditions early is crucial for the best outcomes.

Which Comes First, Epilepsy or ADHD?

The exact relationship between epilepsy and ADHD is yet to be determined, but it’s clear that the way epilepsy affects the brain plays a role in the development of ADHD. Researchers from Israel suggest that multiple factors contribute to the connection between the two conditions.

In epilepsy, the electrical pattern of the brain becomes unbalanced, leading to seizures. Patients with seizures affecting the frontal lobe of the brain have a higher rate of ADHD. Additionally, the more seizures a patient has that are not effectively controlled by medication, the higher their risk of having ADHD. This potential trigger for ADHD could be due to problems within the frontal lobe itself, charges from the seizures, or undiagnosed brain lesions.

Elissa Yozawitz, MD, explains that individuals with seizures may have underlying brain damage or dysfunction of inhibitory neurons leading to excitatory predominance and cerebral hyperarousal, resulting in ADHD symptoms. A study from British researchers also found that epileptic spasms in infancy can lead to ADHD symptoms later in childhood and adolescence through a connection with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a condition causing gene mutations.

What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?

Epilepsy manifests through various types of seizures. The generalized seizures can be categorized into six types:

  1. Absence seizures, the symptoms of which are similar to focal onset awareness seizures.
  2. Atonic seizures, causing muscle weakness and sudden falls.
  3. Tonic seizures, producing muscle stiffness.
  4. Clonic seizures, leading to jerking muscle motions.
  5. Tonic-clonic seizures, characterized by loss of consciousness and convulsions.
  6. Myoclonic seizures, resulting in brief muscle jerks or twitches.

Focal onset seizures have different symptoms depending on whether the individual is awake. Signs of focal onset aware seizures include changes in taste, smell, or hearing, mood shifts, uncontrolled muscle jerking, seeing flashing lights, dizziness, and tingling sensations. Focal onset impaired awareness seizures are characterized by staring blankly and repetitive movements such as blinking, rubbing hands, or mouth and finger movements.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD in Adults?

In adults, ADHD exhibits various signs, including:

  1. Impulsive behavior
  2. Problems with organization
  3. Time management difficulties
  4. Poor concentration
  5. Trouble multitasking
  6. Restlessness
  7. Planning troubles
  8. Quick frustration
  9. Mood swings
  10. Difficulty following through on tasks
  11. Easy anger
  12. Inability to handle stress

Which Treatments Might Help Both ADHD and Epilepsy?

Research suggests that the drug methylphenidate may be a potential treatment for attention deficit symptoms in epilepsy patients, but further studies are needed to determine its effectiveness. It is important to discuss treatment options with a healthcare professional, taking into consideration existing medication for seizures.

If you suspect having ADHD symptoms, it is crucial to seek a proper diagnosis regardless of age. Tracing the root cause of ADHD can expand treatment options. ADHD causes may include environmental trauma, developmental disorders, psychiatric disorders, endocrine disorders, and genetic disorders.

Managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and eating regular nutritious meals can help avoid triggers for both epilepsy and ADHD. Making healthy lifestyle choices serves as a simple yet powerful prevention tool, enabling individuals to regain control over their conditions.