Lukmanji et al., Epilepsy & Behavior, 98(2019), 238-248.

In individuals with epilepsy, other neurodevelopmental problems are common, in particular a co-diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The reason why these two disorders co-occur is likely due to the fact that they share two common underlying risk factors, genetic abnormalities and brain injury. Having a better understanding of how epilepsy and autism co-occur may have impact on how these patients are managed. For example:

  • Autistic features could be more readily recognized and addressed by physicians who are treating epilepsy.
  • Improved seizure control may have implications on overall development in children.
  • Well managed symptoms of both epilepsy and autism will improve patient quality of life.


The purpose of this study was to determine how common autism is in epilepsy and how common epilepsy is in autism. The study also aimed to identify certain factors that may influence this co-occurrence such as age, sex, type of epilepsy and type of autism.

Description of Study

  • Research studies, published between 1981 and 2016, that evaluated the co-occurrence of epilepsy and autism were gathered by using online search engines/databases and then each study was carefully reviewed.
  • 74 studies from all over the world were included.
  • The 74 studies were used together to calculate an average percentage for the number of people with epilepsy who have autism and vice versa.

Summary of Study Findings

  • The percentage of people with epilepsy at a given period of time that also had autism was 12.1%
  • The percentage of people with autism at a given period of time that also had epilepsy was 9.0%
  • Females with autism had higher rates of epilepsy than males,
    • females at 19.0%
    • males at 11.0%.
  • Males with epilepsy had higher rates of autism compared to females,
    • males at 7.6%
    • females at 3.6%.
  • The study was unable to further evaluate the impact of age, type of epilepsy, and type of autism of this co-occurrence because these characteristics were not consistently reported in all of the 74 studies that were reviewed.

What does this mean?

  • This study identified that the occurrence of autism in people with epilepsy, and epilepsy in people with autism, is higher than either of these conditions alone in the general population.
  • Screening for and diagnosing both of these disorders allows for earlier intervention and treatment.
  • Well managed epilepsy, autism and other medical conditions which are present, can significantly improve quality of life for patients.
  • Future studies looking at other population factors such as age, ethnicity, type of epilepsy and underlying cause could be helpful in further understanding the relationship between epilepsy and autism.

Article published in Epilepsy & Behavior, September 2019.

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Authored By: 
AnneMarie Denny MD
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, MSc
Elaine Wirrell MD
Tuesday, December 17, 2019