The differential diagnosis of epileptic seizures (ES) and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) may be difficult, due to the lack of distinctive clinical features. The interictal electroencephalographic (EEG) signal may also be normal in patients with ES. Innovative diagnostic tools that exploit non-linear EEG analysis and deep learning (DL) could provide important support to physicians for clinical diagnosis. In this work, 18 patients with new-onset ES (12 males, 6 females) and 18 patients with video-recorded PNES (2 males, 16 females) with normal interictal EEG at visual inspection were enrolled. None of them was taking psychotropic drugs. A convolutional neural network (CNN) scheme using DL classification was designed to classify the two categories of subjects (ES vs. PNES). The proposed architecture performs an EEG time-frequency transformation and a classification step with a CNN. The CNN was able to classify the EEG recordings of subjects with ES vs. subjects with PNES with 94.4% accuracy. CNN provided high performance in the assigned binary classification when compared to standard learning algorithms (multi-layer perceptron, support vector machine, linear discriminant analysis and quadratic discriminant analysis). In order to interpret how the CNN achieved this performance, information theoretical analysis was carried out. Specifically, the permutation entropy (PE) of the feature maps was evaluated and compared in the two classes. The achieved results, although preliminary, encourage the use of these innovative techniques to support neurologists in early diagnoses.
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