Impaired consciousness has important practical consequences for people living with epilepsy. Recent pathophysiologic studies show that seizures with impaired level of consciousness always affect widespread cortical networks and subcortical arousal systems. In light of these findings and their clinical significance, efforts are underway to revise the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) 2010 report to include impaired consciousness in the classification of seizures. Lüders and colleagues have presented one such effort, which we discuss here. We then propose an alternative classification of impaired consciousness in epilepsy based on functional neuroanatomy. Some seizures involve focal cortical regions and cause selective deficits in the content of consciousness but without impaired overall level of consciousness or awareness. These include focal aware conscious seizures (FACS) with lower order cortical deficits such as somatosensory or visual impairment as well as FACS with higher cognitive deficits including ictal aphasia or isolated epileptic amnesia. Another category applies to seizures with impaired level of consciousness leading to deficits in multiple cognitive domains. For this category, we believe the terms "dyscognitive" or "dialeptic" should be avoided because they may create confusion. Instead we propose that seizures with impaired level of consciousness be described based on underlying pathophysiology. Widespread moderately severe deficits in corticothalamic function are seen in absence seizures and in focal impaired consciousness seizures (FICS), including many temporal lobe seizures and other focal seizures with impaired consciousness. Some simple responses or automatisms may be preserved in these seizures. In contrast, generalized tonic-clonic seizures usually produce widespread severe deficits in corticothalamic function causing loss of all meaningful responses. Further work is needed to understand and prevent impaired consciousness in epilepsy, but the first step is to keep this crucial practical and physiologic aspect of seizures front-and-center in our discussions.
View details for DOI 10.1111/epi.12588
View details for Web of Science ID 000342236400006
View details for PubMedID 24981294
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4149314