Epileptic aphasia - A critical appraisal

Epilepsy Behav. 2021 Aug;121(Pt A):108064. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2021.108064. Epub 2021 May 27.


Introduction: Aphasic and other language disturbances occur in patients with epilepsy during and after epileptic seizures. Moreover, the interictal language profile in these patients is heterogeneous, varying from normal language profile to impairment in different language functions. The aim of this paper was to critically review the terms and concepts of ictal language alterations.

Material and method: For this review we performed an extensive literature search on the term "epileptic aphasia" and analyzed the semiology and terminology indicating language-associated seizure symptoms. In addition, we give an overview on EEG, etiology, and brain imaging findings and ictal language disorders.

Results: In the literature, a plethora of terms indicates language-associated seizure symptoms. Simultaneous Video-EEG monitoring represents the gold standard to correctly classify ictal versus postictal language disturbances and to differentiate aphasic symptoms from speech automatisms. Different rhythmic and periodic EEG patterns associated with ictal language disturbances are recognized. Cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (cMRI) is essential in the diagnosis of seizures and epilepsy. Brain tumors and acute or remote cerebrovascular lesions are the most frequently reported structural etiologies underlying ictal language alterations. However, it has to be recognized that brain imaging may show alterations being the consequence of seizures itself rather than its cause. Functional brain imaging might be informative in patients with inconclusive EEG and MRI findings. Overall, seizure-associated aphasia is reported to have good lateralizing significance.

Conclusion: Various language disturbances are caused by different types of seizures, epilepsies and underlying etiologies. In the clinical context, simultaneous Video-EEG monitoring facilitates precise classification of ictal versus postictal language alterations and differentiation of aphasic symptoms from speech automatisms.

Keywords: Ictal aphasia; Language; Seizure; Speech automatisms; Status epilepticus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia* / etiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy* / complications
  • Humans
  • Seizures