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Revised Operational Classification of
Robert S Fisher
Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, US
T he International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) issued a revised operational classification of seizure types. The ILAE retained much of the
old structure, but new features include new types of focal motor seizures: automatism, tonic, atonic, myoclonic, hyperkinetic, and spasm
motor seizures. Focal nonmotor seizures can be autonomic, behavior arrest, cognitive, emotional, and sensory. A few new generalized
types are included, as well as seizures of unknown onset. Partial is renamed focal. Simple partial is renamed focal aware and complex partial,
focal impaired awareness. The new classification should enhance clarity and communication.
Keywords Epilepsy, seizure, classification
Disclosure: Robert S Fisher has nothing to disclose in
relation to this article. No funding was received for the
publication of this article. This article is a short opinion
piece and has not been submitted to external peer
reviewer, but was reviewed by the editorial board for
accuracy before publication.
Authorship: All named authors meet the International
Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria
for authorship of this manuscript, take responsibility
for the integrity of the work as a whole, and have
given final approval for the version to be published.
Open Access: This article is published under the Creative
Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which
permits any noncommercial use, distribution, adaptation,
and reproduction provided the original author(s) and source
are given appropriate credit.
Received: April 16, 2017
Published Online: July 24, 2017
Citation: US Neurology, 2017;13(2):72–3
Corresponding Author: Robert S Fisher, Department of
Neurology and Neurological Sciences, 213 Quarry Road,
Room 4865, Palo Alto, CA 94304-5979, US.
72 In April 2017, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), which is the parent body of over 100
national professional epilepsy societies, published a revised operational classification of seizure
types 1–4 and epilepsies. 5 The seizure classification was a revision of the classification established in
1981 6 and partially updated in 2010. 7 The 1981 classification, which included the terms simple partial
and complex partial seizures, had some limitations. There was no specific mention of several focal
motor seizure types, such as atonic, myoclonic, or tonic, which could only appear as generalized
seizures. Seizures, for example tonic-clonic, could not be classified if the onset was unknown. Some
important generalized onset seizure types were missing. Certain terms, such as partial, simple,
complex, and psychic, were not clear to the public and even to some physicians. Using consciousness
to classify seizures was sometimes confusing, since unconsciousness or impaired consciousness
meant different things to different people. In some studies, more than half of the people with epilepsy
misclassified their seizure type. 8
Figure 1 illustrates the expanded ILAE 2017 classification of seizures. A basic version can be
constructed by eliminating the small font subcategories. This classification is empirical and based
upon an extension of the 1981 system, since we do not yet know enough to classify according to the
underlying science of epilepsy.
Partial seizures are renamed focal seizures. Seizures are classified as focal with onset in one
hemisphere, versus generalized with onset in both hemispheres or seizures of unknown onset.
For focal seizures, the next optional classifier is by level of awareness, which serves as a surrogate
for consciousness. A seizure is focal aware (previously ‘simple partial’) if awareness is retained and
focal impaired awareness (previously ‘complex partial’) if awareness is disturbed for any part of the
seizure. The next optional categorization is into motor and nonmotor focal seizures, with specific
types listed in Figure 1. The specific focal seizure subclassification derives from the first manifestation
of a seizure, even if that is not the most prominent behavior, because the first manifestation marks
the onset zone (seizure focus or network). For example, an event with chills and piloerection, followed
by impaired awareness and tonic stiffening of the right arm is a focal impaired awareness autonomic
seizure. It is always acceptable to add other descriptive terms (a standard set is suggested 2 ), but these
do not change the classification. A ‘secondarily generalized tonic-clonic seizure’ is renamed as focal
to bilateral tonic-clonic seizure.
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