Seizures, syndromes, and etiologies in childhood epilepsy: The International League Against Epilepsy 1981, 1989, and 2017 classifications used in a population-based cohort



The study provides updated information about the distribution of seizures, epilepsies, and etiologies of epilepsy in the general child population, and compares the old and new classification systems from the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE).


The study platform was the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Cases of epilepsy were identified through registry linkages and sequential parental questionnaires. Epilepsy diagnoses were validated using a standardized protocol, and seizures, epilepsies, and etiologies were classified according to the old (ILAE 1981/1989) and new (ILAE 2017) classifications. Information was collected through medical record reviews and/or parental telephone interviews.


The study population included 112,744 children aged 3–13 years at the end of follow-up on December 31, 2012. Of these, there were 606 children with epilepsy (CWE). Distribution of seizure types varied by age of onset. Multiple seizure types were common with early onset. Focal epilepsies were the most common, occurring in 317 per 100,000 children in the study population and in 59% of CWE. Generalized epilepsies were found in 190 per 100,000 (35% of CWE). CWE with onset during the first 2 years of life had an even distribution of focal and generalized epilepsies, whereas focal epilepsies became dominant at later ages of onset. A definite cause of epilepsy had been demonstrated in 33% of CWE. The ILAE 1989 classification allowed for a broad syndrome category in 93% of CWE and a defined epileptic syndrome in 37%. With the ILAE 2017 classification, 41% of CWE had a defined epileptic syndrome and 63% had either a defined syndrome or structural–metabolic etiology.


The distribution of seizures and epilepsies is strongly dependent on age of onset. Despite diagnostic advances, the causes of epilepsy are still unknown in two-thirds of CWE. The ILAE 2017 classifications allow for a higher precision of diagnoses, but at the expense of leaving more epilepsies classifiable only at the mode of onset level.