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People with epilepsy have higher rates of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, or depression than adults without epilepsy. At the same time, people with ADHD, autism, or depression also seem to have a higher risk for epileptic seizures.

Although the reasons aren’t clearly understood, epilepsy seems to be linked with many mental health issues.

The reasons behind why these conditions are closely linked aren’t fully understood yet. It seems there are similar changes in brain functioning among these conditions. It’s also possible that the electrical disruptions from epilepsy can affect certain areas of the brain and cause behaviors common to ADHD, depression, and autism.

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Epilepsy and Depression

Living with seizures is tough. It’s common to experience sadness, frustration, anger, and even embarrassment. People with epilepsy tend to have a higher risk of developing depression; likewise, people with depression have a higher chance of developing epilepsy.

Seizure and anti-epileptic medications may also play a role in developing depression because they can affect the mood centers of the brain. Brain injury that affects these mood centers may also lead to depression.

Treatment for both conditions gets tricky. People with depression tend to be more resistant to seizure medications, and many antidepressants cannot safely be combined with these medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling may be a first step in treating depression.

Epilepsy and ADHD

Adults with epilepsy are more likely to have ADHD symptoms than adults without. In one large survey, about 18 percent of respondents with epilepsy had ADHD symptoms, compared with just over 4 percent of adults without.

People with epilepsy and ADHD tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety as well. Given that these are common triggers for seizures, it’s possible this could increase the frequency of seizures. Researchers are trying to make more connections between the two and find ways to manage ADHD.

Epilepsy and Autism

About one-third of people with autism also have epilepsy. It’s unclear whether epilepsy leads to behaviors common in autism spectrum disorders or whether the abnormal brain activity present with autism makes a person more likely to have seizures. Either way, research is showing that the two conditions are closely linked.

One reason is thought to be because the electrical bursts that cause seizures disrupt the brain’s normal functioning that controls socialization. The brain’s misfirings lead to behaviors similar to what commonly characterizes people with autism, such as less eye contact or less social interaction.

When both conditions are present, it’s possible that treatment for autism could help control seizure activity.

If you have epilepsy and any signs of depression or ADHD, it’s important to talk to your physician. Together, you can find a treatment plan to help you manage seizures as well as your mental and emotional health. For more information on epilepsy treatment options, visit the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.