The new ILAE report on terminology and concepts for the organization of epilepsies: Critical review and contribution

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This critical review refers to the new report on terminology and concepts for the organization of epilepsies by the Commission of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). It is unfortunate that most of the proposals in the Commission's report are modified interpretations and nomenclature of previous ILAE classifications; new terms are not better than the old ones, and recent advances have not been incorporated. Hence, the new ILAE report met with considerable dissatisfaction from several expert epileptologists. The Commission abandoned (1) the disease-syndrome distinction, although “disease” is generally differentiated from “syndrome” in most medical texts as well as in the ILAE classification itself; (2) the distinction of “generalized” and “focal” for epileptic syndromes, despite maintaining this distinction for epileptic seizures and despite the fact that most epileptic syndromes manifest exclusively either with generalized or focal epileptic seizures; (4) the terms “idiopathic,”“symptomatic,” and “cryptogenic,” although these terms have been well defined in the previous ILAE classifications; reiterating their true meaning would be sufficient. Genetic epilepsy could be a new category and (5) the designation of “benign” epilepsies, despite the recommendations of experts at the Monreale workshop. In addition, the Commission proposed that “age at onset” be used as a primary dimension for organizing the epilepsies. However, (a) this runs counter to classification efforts of other diseases in medicine and neurology; (b) syndromes that are likely to be linked together on the basis of electroclinical (and often genetic) evidence are now separated and intermixed with a number of heterogeneous epilepsies; and (c) a considerable number of epileptic syndromes have a wide range of age at onset from childhood to adulthood. Furthermore, epilepsy syndromes were given by name only, without definition; thus we remain dependent on previous ILAE definitions, which are often broad and imprecise. The ILAE should commission consensus of opinion from experts in specific fields in order to define each syndrome. Areas of certainties and uncertainties and of agreements and disagreements should be identified and explained. This approach may be the only way toward achieving a scientifically sound and clinically meaningful organizational system for the epileptic seizures and the epilepsies—a process that would incorporate the tremendous advances in our field and would be accepted by the wider community of clinicians and scientists.

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