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Is There a Link Between ADHD and Bedwetting?

By Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH

Question: My son has ADHD. He’s 8 years old and still wets the bed sometimes. Is there a connection between ADHD and bedwetting?

Answer:

Yes, there’s definitely a link. Bedwetting is about three times more common in kids who have ADHD than in kids who don’t. And it can be very distressing to both kids and parents.

It’s not totally clear why so many kids with ADHD have this issue. (The medical term for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis.) Some researchers think it may be because both conditions are linked to a delay in the development of the central nervous system.

Another possible reason is that kids with ADHD have a harder time paying attention to their bodily cues. They may not wake up enough in the night to realize that their bladder is full. Or they might not wake up at all when their bladder is full.

Bedwetting usually goes away on its own. As kids develop, they start to stay dry at night when their bodies can do three key things:

  • Release enough of a certain chemical (antidiuretic hormone) at nighttime to help concentrate their urine.

  • Increase their bladder’s capacity so there’s enough room to store urine at night.

  • Recognize that their bladder is getting full during the night so they can wake up and go to the bathroom.

Kids need to develop all three of these bodily functions to stay dry. A delay in any one of them can cause bedwetting.

For kids with ADHD, that development may be slower, or come later. But eventually most kids with ADHD catch up to their peers, and the bedwetting stops.

Still, it’s always a good idea to talk with your child’s doctor if you have any concerns. Sometimes bedwetting can be a sign of other medical issues. (That’s more often the case if it starts suddenly or if a child is also having accidents during the day.)

No matter what the cause of bedwetting is, many kids find it embarrassing and upsetting. It’s important to let kids know that it’s not their fault and that it’s likely to get better over time.

In the meantime, there are a number of things you can do to help.

First, encourage your child to stop drinking about two hours before bedtime and to go to the bathroom right before bedtime. You can also try using a bedwetting alarm to teach your child to wake up at night before wetting the bed.

Sometimes, parents (and kids) aren’t comfortable waiting for the issue to resolve itself on its own. In that case, you might want to ask your doctor about medication that can help with bedwetting.

If kids use this medication, it’s often for specific situations. Those might include sleepovers or sleepaway camp.

While it can help to know that bedwetting doesn’t last forever, it’s common for parents to be upset when it happens. That’s totally understandable. But how you respond can have a big impact on your child, who most likely already feels bad.

Knowing about the developmental aspects of ADHD can make it easier to understand and support your child. Another thing to be aware of is the link between anxiety and ADHD. Anxiety can contribute to problems with bedwetting.

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