New concepts in classification of the epilepsies: Entering the 21st century


  • Anne T. Berg,

    1. Epilepsy Center, Nothwestern Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago IL, U.S.A.
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  • Ingrid E. Scheffer

    1. Epilepsy Research Centre, Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne, Austin Health, and Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Vic., Australia
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Address correspondence to Anne T. Berg, Department of Biology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, U.S.A. E-mail:


Concepts and terminology for classifying seizures and epilepsies have, until recently, rested on ideas developed nearly a century ago. In order for clinical epilepsy and practice to benefit fully from the major technological and scientific advances of the last several years, advances that are revolutionizing our understanding and treatment of the epilepsies, it is necessary to break with the older vocabulary and approaches to classifying epilepsies and seizures. The Commission on Classification and Terminology made specific recommendations to move this process along and ensure that classification will reflect the best knowledge, will not be arbitrary, and will ultimately serve the purpose of improving clinical practice as well as research on many levels. The recommendations include new terms and concepts for etiology and seizure types as well as abandoning the 1989 classification structure and replacing it instead with a flexible multidimensional approach in which the most relevant features for a specific purpose can be emphasized. This is not a finished product and will take yet more time to achieve. Waiting any longer, however, would be a disservice to patient care and will continue the longstanding frustrations with the earlier system which, at this point in time, can be viewed as both antiquated and arbitrary.