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Brain Death

Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death is a legal and clinical term describing the irreversible cessation of all cerebral and brainstem functions, including the ability of the brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification stem to regulate vegetative and respiratory activities. Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death can be due to a variety of etiologies causing catastrophic injuries to the brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification, including brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification ischemia Ischemia A hypoperfusion of the blood through an organ or tissue caused by a pathologic constriction or obstruction of its blood vessels, or an absence of blood circulation. Ischemic Cell Damage due to cardiopulmonary arrest Cardiopulmonary arrest Cardiac arrest is the sudden, complete cessation of cardiac output with hemodynamic collapse. Patients present as pulseless, unresponsive, and apneic. Rhythms associated with cardiac arrest are ventricular fibrillation/tachycardia, asystole, or pulseless electrical activity. Cardiac Arrest, drugs, sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock, and trauma. The diagnosis is made at the bedside based on the clinical context and performance of a neurological exam. Additional ancillary studies may be needed to support the diagnosis and diagnostic criteria may vary among states and countries. A diagnosis of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death must be established prior to consideration of organ donation.

Last updated: Jun 2, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Overview and Pathophysiology

Definition

Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death is the complete and permanent loss of all cerebral and brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification stem functions, including the ability of the brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification stem to regulate vegetative and respiratory activities. 

Definition of “complete and permanent loss” of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification function:

  • Unresponsive coma Coma Coma is defined as a deep state of unarousable unresponsiveness, characterized by a score of 3 points on the GCS. A comatose state can be caused by a multitude of conditions, making the precise epidemiology and prognosis of coma difficult to determine. Coma with loss of capacity for consciousness
  • Loss of brainstem reflexes 
  • Inability to breathe unassisted
  • Loss of function Loss of Function Inflammation unable to resume spontaneously and unable to be restored through intervention

Etiology

  • Traumatic brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification injury 
  • Hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke Ischemic Stroke An ischemic stroke (also known as cerebrovascular accident) is an acute neurologic injury that occurs as a result of brain ischemia; this condition may be due to cerebral blood vessel occlusion by thrombosis or embolism, or rarely due to systemic hypoperfusion. Ischemic Stroke
  • Cardiopulmonary arrest Cardiopulmonary arrest Cardiac arrest is the sudden, complete cessation of cardiac output with hemodynamic collapse. Patients present as pulseless, unresponsive, and apneic. Rhythms associated with cardiac arrest are ventricular fibrillation/tachycardia, asystole, or pulseless electrical activity. Cardiac Arrest with inadequate CPR CPR The artificial substitution of heart and lung action as indicated for heart arrest resulting from electric shock, drowning, respiratory arrest, or other causes. The two major components of cardiopulmonary resuscitation are artificial ventilation and closed-chest cardiac massage. Cardiac Arrest
  • Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification tumor Tumor Inflammation
  • Intracranial pressure Intracranial Pressure Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension ( ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP))
  • CNS infection
  • Sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock leading to cerebral hypoperfusion and ischemia Ischemia A hypoperfusion of the blood through an organ or tissue caused by a pathologic constriction or obstruction of its blood vessels, or an absence of blood circulation. Ischemic Cell Damage
  • Drug overdose

Pathophysiology

  • Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification injury → brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema → ↑ ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP)
    • Edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema can occur by:
      • Vasogenic disruption of the blood-brain barrier Blood-brain barrier Specialized non-fenestrated tightly-joined endothelial cells with tight junctions that form a transport barrier for certain substances between the cerebral capillaries and the brain tissue. Systemic and Special Circulations → protein leakage from plasma Plasma The residual portion of blood that is left after removal of blood cells by centrifugation without prior blood coagulation. Transfusion Products to the brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification
      • Cytotoxic Cytotoxic Parvovirus B19 modifications in cellular osmolality Osmolality Plasma osmolality refers to the combined concentration of all solutes in the blood. Renal Sodium and Water Regulation neurons Neurons The basic cellular units of nervous tissue. Each neuron consists of a body, an axon, and dendrites. Their purpose is to receive, conduct, and transmit impulses in the nervous system. Nervous System: Histology lose the capacity to manage ionic gradients
    • Cerebral perfusion Cerebral Perfusion Syncope pressure ( CPP CPP Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP)) equals mean Mean Mean is the sum of all measurements in a data set divided by the number of measurements in that data set. Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion arterial pressure (MAP) minus ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP):
      • CPP CPP Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) autoregulates to ensure brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification perfusion in normal circumstances.
      • Autoregulation Autoregulation Systemic and Special Circulations is lost with extremes of MAP or ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP).
      • ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) → ↓ CPP CPP Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification ischemia Ischemia A hypoperfusion of the blood through an organ or tissue caused by a pathologic constriction or obstruction of its blood vessels, or an absence of blood circulation. Ischemic Cell Damage
      • Severely ↑ ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification herniation Herniation Omphalocele
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction due to cellular hypoxia Hypoxia Sub-optimal oxygen levels in the ambient air of living organisms. Ischemic Cell Damage free radical Free Radical Highly reactive molecules with an unsatisfied electron valence pair. Free radicals are produced in both normal and pathological processes. They are proven or suspected agents of tissue damage in a wide variety of circumstances including radiation, damage from environment chemicals, and aging. Natural and pharmacological prevention of free radical damage is being actively investigated. Nitroimidazoles generation and reduction in cellular energy production → neuronal cell death Cell death Injurious stimuli trigger the process of cellular adaptation, whereby cells respond to withstand the harmful changes in their environment. Overwhelmed adaptive mechanisms lead to cell injury. Mild stimuli produce reversible injury. If the stimulus is severe or persistent, injury becomes irreversible. Apoptosis is programmed cell death, a mechanism with both physiologic and pathologic effects. Cell Injury and Death:
    • Initially in the cerebral hemispheres and basal ganglia Basal Ganglia Basal ganglia are a group of subcortical nuclear agglomerations involved in movement, and are located deep to the cerebral hemispheres. Basal ganglia include the striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen), globus pallidus, substantia nigra, and subthalamic nucleus. Basal Ganglia: Anatomy
    • Followed by the thalamus Thalamus The thalamus is a large, ovoid structure in the dorsal part of the diencephalon that is located between the cerebral cortex and midbrain. It consists of several interconnected nuclei of grey matter separated by the laminae of white matter. The thalamus is the main conductor of information that passes between the cerebral cortex and the periphery, spinal cord, or brain stem. Thalamus: Anatomy and brainstem

Clinical Presentation

History

  • Establish the etiology of the coma Coma Coma is defined as a deep state of unarousable unresponsiveness, characterized by a score of 3 points on the GCS. A comatose state can be caused by a multitude of conditions, making the precise epidemiology and prognosis of coma difficult to determine. Coma (e.g., overdose, trauma, stroke).
  • Evaluate for any confounding conditions mimicking irreversible brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification injury:
    • Severe electrolyte abnormalities or acid-base disorders
    • Severe endocrine dysfunction
    • Hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia: Minimum core temperature of 36°C is required.
    • Circulatory collapse (i.e., severe hypotension Hypotension Hypotension is defined as low blood pressure, specifically < 90/60 mm Hg, and is most commonly a physiologic response. Hypotension may be mild, serious, or life threatening, depending on the cause. Hypotension)
    • Blood alcohol level > 80 mg/dL 
  • In the presence of hospital-administered sedative drugs and paralytics:
    • Discontinue medications for 5 elimination Elimination The initial damage and destruction of tumor cells by innate and adaptive immunity. Completion of the phase means no cancer growth. Cancer Immunotherapy half-life Half-Life The time it takes for a substance (drug, radioactive nuclide, or other) to lose half of its pharmacologic, physiologic, or radiologic activity. Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics periods before testing.
    • May need more time with hepatic or kidney dysfunction

Physical examination

  • Systolic blood pressure > 100 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg: Vasopressors Vasopressors Sepsis in Children may be required.
  • Determination of coma Coma Coma is defined as a deep state of unarousable unresponsiveness, characterized by a score of 3 points on the GCS. A comatose state can be caused by a multitude of conditions, making the precise epidemiology and prognosis of coma difficult to determine. Coma by the bilateral absence of motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology responses to:
    • Verbal stimulation Verbal Stimulation Coma: Call out the individual’s name.
    • Tactile stimulation Tactile Stimulation Coma:
    • Responses consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death:
      • No grimacing or facial muscle movement
      • No motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology response of the limbs other than spinal reflexes (Lazarus sign)
  • Pupillary light reflex Pupillary Light Reflex Constriction of the pupil in response to light stimulation of the retina. It refers also to any reflex involving the iris, with resultant alteration of the diameter of the pupil. Pupil: Physiology and Abnormalities:
    • Shine light into each eye and examine for pupillary constriction.
    • Responses consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death:
      • Absence of ipsilateral and contralateral pupillary response
      • Pupils fixed in a midsize or dilated position (4–6 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma) bilaterally
      • Constricted pupils are not consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death.
  • Oculocephalic reflex (OCR) and oculovestibular reflex (OVR):
    • OCR: examined by rotating the head briskly and horizontally to both sides:
      • The term “doll’s eyes” refers to vintage dolls with eyes painted on and unable to move with the head.
      • Abnormal reflex: Eyes are fixed with head movement as if gazing on a fixed point.
    • OVR: Instill 50 mL of cold water into the ear with the head at a 30° elevation.
    • Responses consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death: absent eye movement with both tests
  • Corneal reflex:
    • Examined by touching the cornea Cornea The transparent anterior portion of the fibrous coat of the eye consisting of five layers: stratified squamous corneal epithelium; bowman membrane; corneal stroma; descemet membrane; and mesenchymal corneal endothelium. It serves as the first refracting medium of the eye. Eye: Anatomy with a cotton swab or squirts of water/saline
    • Responses consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death: absent eyelid movement
  • Gag reflex Gag Reflex Cranial Nerve Palsies:
    • Examined by touching the posterior pharyngeal wall with a suction device or tongue Tongue The tongue, on the other hand, is a complex muscular structure that permits tasting and facilitates the process of mastication and communication. The blood supply of the tongue originates from the external carotid artery, and the innervation is through cranial nerves. Lips and Tongue: Anatomy depressor 
    • Response consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death: absent gag
  • Cough reflex:
    • Examined by stimulating the tracheobronchial wall through suctioning
    • Response consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death: absent cough

Diagnosis

The assessment of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death in an individual on life support requires neuroimaging Neuroimaging Non-invasive methods of visualizing the central nervous system, especially the brain, by various imaging modalities. Febrile Infant, exclusion of confounding factors, and possibly an EEG EEG Seizures.

  • Diagnostic requirements for brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death:
    • Known clinical etiology of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death
    • Absence of confounding conditions:
      • Hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia
      • Sedatives/ anesthetics Anesthetics Agents that are capable of inducing a total or partial loss of sensation, especially tactile sensation and pain. They may act to induce general anesthesia, in which an unconscious state is achieved, or may act locally to induce numbness or lack of sensation at a targeted site. Anesthesiology: History and Basic Concepts
      • Metabolic abnormalities
    • Abnormal brainstem reflexes on neurological examination Neurological examination A neurological exam is a systematic assessment of cognitive, sensory, and motor responses to identify pathologies of the nervous system. A neurological exam allows for the localization of neurologic lesions to narrow the differential diagnosis and focus on subsequent laboratory and imaging examinations. The exam should include assessments of the subject’s mental status, speech, cranial nerves, motor system, deep tendon reflexes, sensation, balance, and coordination. Neurological Examination
    • Positive apnea test
    • Ancillary tests (when appropriate)
  • Neuroimaging Neuroimaging Non-invasive methods of visualizing the central nervous system, especially the brain, by various imaging modalities. Febrile Infant:
    • MRI or CT demonstrates irreversible, devastating brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification injury:
      • Evidence of severe edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema or herniation Herniation Omphalocele
      • If seen, brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema is suggestive of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death.
    • Measured ICP ICP Normal intracranial pressure (ICP) is defined as < 15 mm Hg, whereas pathologically increased ICP is any pressure ≥ 20 mm Hg. Increased ICP may result from several etiologies, including trauma, intracranial hemorrhage, mass lesions, cerebral edema, increased CSF production, and decreased CSF absorption. Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) at least equals MAP
  • Labs:
    • Electrolytes Electrolytes Electrolytes are mineral salts that dissolve in water and dissociate into charged particles called ions, which can be either be positively (cations) or negatively (anions) charged. Electrolytes are distributed in the extracellular and intracellular compartments in different concentrations. Electrolytes are essential for various basic life-sustaining functions. Electrolytes
    • CBC
    • Arterial blood gas Arterial blood gas Respiratory Alkalosis analysis
    • Toxicologic tests
    • CSF analysis CSF analysis Meningitis
  • Apnea test: part of all protocols for determination of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death:
    • Performed after all other criteria for brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death have been met MET Preoperative Care
    • Before the test:
      • Adjust ventilator settings to a PCO2 between 35–45 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg.
      • No hypoxia Hypoxia Sub-optimal oxygen levels in the ambient air of living organisms. Ischemic Cell Damage: 100% O2 for at least 10 minutes before the test
      • Discontinue paralytic drugs.
    • Cannot be done in:
      • The presence of high cervical spine Spine The human spine, or vertebral column, is the most important anatomical and functional axis of the human body. It consists of 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae and is limited cranially by the skull and caudally by the sacrum. Vertebral Column: Anatomy lesions
      • Individuals with chronic PCO2 retention 
    • Steps:
      • Discontinue ventilator for 10 minutes.
      • Provide O2 to a maximum PO2 of 200 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg, or until PCO2 > 40 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg.
      • If hemodynamic instability is observed → test is aborted
      • If no spontaneous respiratory efforts → test is terminated after 10 minutes
    • Positive test: 
      • No respiratory response to PCO2 > 60 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg, or 20 mm MM Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignant condition of plasma cells (activated B lymphocytes) primarily seen in the elderly. Monoclonal proliferation of plasma cells results in cytokine-driven osteoclastic activity and excessive secretion of IgG antibodies. Multiple Myeloma Hg > baseline values
      • Final arterial pH pH The quantitative measurement of the acidity or basicity of a solution. Acid-Base Balance < 7.28
  • Ancillary tests are required if the primary neurologic examination or apnea test is unable to be completed, or if the examination or test is inconclusive: 
    • Brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification blood flow Blood flow Blood flow refers to the movement of a certain volume of blood through the vasculature over a given unit of time (e.g., mL per minute). Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure studies: Absent brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification blood flow Blood flow Blood flow refers to the movement of a certain volume of blood through the vasculature over a given unit of time (e.g., mL per minute). Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure establishes brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death.
      • Preferred modality: radionuclide studies
      • Conventional 4-vessel cerebral angiography Cerebral angiography Radiography of the vascular system of the brain after injection of a contrast medium. Carotid Artery Stenosis
      • CTA CTA A non-invasive method that uses a ct scanner for capturing images of blood vessels and tissues. A contrast material is injected, which helps produce detailed images that aid in diagnosing vascular diseases. Pulmonary Function Tests
      • MRA MRA Imaging of the Heart and Great Vessels
      • Transcranial Doppler Doppler Ultrasonography applying the doppler effect, with frequency-shifted ultrasound reflections produced by moving targets (usually red blood cells) in the bloodstream along the ultrasound axis in direct proportion to the velocity of movement of the targets, to determine both direction and velocity of blood flow. Ultrasound (Sonography)
    • EEG EEG Seizures:
      • Required to diagnose brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death in children
      • Not routinely required in adults, but may be legally mandated
      • Consistent with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death if no potentials are recorded after 30 minutes
      • May be falsely negative or falsely positive
Algorithm describing the course of action in patients with brain death

Algorithm describing the course of action in individuals with brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death

Image by Lecturio.

Clinical and Ethical Considerations

Documentation Documentation Systematic organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of specialized information, especially of a scientific or technical nature. It often involves authenticating or validating information. Advance Directives required for determination of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death

  • Etiology of the coma Coma Coma is defined as a deep state of unarousable unresponsiveness, characterized by a score of 3 points on the GCS. A comatose state can be caused by a multitude of conditions, making the precise epidemiology and prognosis of coma difficult to determine. Coma 
  • Absence of confounding conditions
  • Full details and results of clinical testing performed
  • Neuroimaging Neuroimaging Non-invasive methods of visualizing the central nervous system, especially the brain, by various imaging modalities. Febrile Infant results and timing in relation to clinical testing 
  • Reason for and type of ancillary testing performed and results 
  • Time of death 
  • Identity of the practitioner(s) performing the evaluation

Somatic support after declaration of brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death

  • Diagnosis made → individual is declared clinically and legally deceased
  • Physiological support should be discontinued unless
    • Decedent is pregnant and support is needed for the fetus.
    • Organ donation is planned:
      • Notify the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE).
      • Organ procurement coordinators review the medical chart.
      • If appropriate, the coordinators speak with the potential donor’s next-of-kin.
    • Family requests due to religious or moral beliefs: 
      • Every effort should be made to address concerns.
      • Involvement of religious authorities or ethics Ethics Medical ethics are a set of moral values that guide the decision-making of health care professionals in their daily practice. A sense of ethical responsibility has accompanied the profession of medicine since antiquity, and the Hippocratic oath was the 1st document to codify its core ethical principles. Medical Ethics: Basic Principles committees may be helpful.
      • Treat every person and family with the utmost respect.
      • A multidisciplinary approach (e.g., social workers, psychologists, counselors) is advisable.
      • Prolongation of support > 48 hours should generally be avoided.

Differential Diagnosis

  • Locked-in syndrome Locked-in syndrome Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a rare neurological disorder in which patients are awake and conscious but are unable to move their limbs or speak. The disorder is a result of brain injury to the ventral aspect of the pons and caudal ventral midbrain; etiologies include brainstem stroke, tumors, intracranial bleeding, and demyelinating disorders. Locked-in Syndrome (also known as “ pseudocoma Pseudocoma Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a rare neurological disorder in which patients are awake and conscious but are unable to move their limbs or speak. The disorder is a result of brain injury to the ventral aspect of the pons and caudal ventral midbrain; etiologies include brainstem stroke, tumors, intracranial bleeding, and demyelinating disorders. Locked-in Syndrome” or “de-efferented state”): a state of quadriplegia Quadriplegia Severe or complete loss of motor function in all four limbs which may result from brain diseases; spinal cord diseases; peripheral nervous system diseases; neuromuscular diseases; or rarely muscular diseases. The locked-in syndrome is characterized by quadriplegia in combination with cranial muscle paralysis. Consciousness is spared and the only retained voluntary motor activity may be limited eye movements. This condition is usually caused by a lesion in the upper brain stem which injures the descending corticospinal and corticobulbar tracts. Locked-in Syndrome and paralysis of the lower cranial nerves Cranial nerves There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves (CNs), which run from the brain to various parts of the head, neck, and trunk. The CNs can be sensory or motor or both. The CNs are named and numbered in Roman numerals according to their location, from the front to the back of the brain. The 12 Cranial Nerves: Overview and Functions leading to the inability to move, communicate, or show any facial expression (except for certain eye movements). Locked-in syndrome Locked-in syndrome Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a rare neurological disorder in which patients are awake and conscious but are unable to move their limbs or speak. The disorder is a result of brain injury to the ventral aspect of the pons and caudal ventral midbrain; etiologies include brainstem stroke, tumors, intracranial bleeding, and demyelinating disorders. Locked-in Syndrome typically results from pontine hemorrhage or infarct Infarct Area of necrotic cells in an organ, arising mainly from hypoxia and ischemia Ischemic Cell Damage. Diagnosis is made clinically with individuals limited to blinking or performing vertical eye movements upon request. Management involves supportive care and prevention of immobilization Immobilization Delirium complications. Long-term physical therapy Physical Therapy Becker Muscular Dystrophy is essential. 
  • Hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia: a drop in core body temperature Body Temperature The measure of the level of heat of a human or animal. Heatstroke below 35°C. Hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based upon the degree of temperature decrease. Populations of individuals with extremes of age, homelessness, mental illness, or substance use disorders may be more vulnerable to accidental hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia. Evaluation includes assessment for associated trauma and contributing medical conditions. Management involves rewarming the individual based on the severity of hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia.
  • Drug intoxication: intoxication of CNS-suppressant medications or muscle relaxants/paralytics. The drugs may include opioids Opioids Opiates are drugs that are derived from the sap of the opium poppy. Opiates have been used since antiquity for the relief of acute severe pain. Opioids are synthetic opiates with properties that are substantially similar to those of opiates. Opioid Analgesics, tricyclics, baclofen Baclofen A gamma-aminobutyric acid derivative that is a specific agonist of gaba-b receptors. It is used in the treatment of muscle spasticity, especially that due to spinal cord injuries. Its therapeutic effects result from actions at spinal and supraspinal sites, generally the reduction of excitatory transmission. Spasmolytics, barbiturates Barbiturates A class of chemicals derived from barbituric acid or thiobarbituric acid. Many of these are gaba modulators used as hypnotics and sedatives, as anesthetics, or as anticonvulsants. Intravenous Anesthetics, paralytics, anticholinergics Anticholinergics Anticholinergic drugs block the effect of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the muscarinic receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Anticholinergic agents inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in effects on the smooth muscle in the respiratory tract, vascular system, urinary tract, GI tract, and pupils of the eyes. Anticholinergic Drugs, and organophosphates, which may significantly suppress consciousness and motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology/ sensory Sensory Neurons which conduct nerve impulses to the central nervous system. Nervous System: Histology responses. The exposure may be either known or unrecognized. Diagnosis is based on history, review of medications, interviews with family, and toxicologic evaluations. Management is based on the diagnosis.
  • High cervical spine Spine The human spine, or vertebral column, is the most important anatomical and functional axis of the human body. It consists of 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae and is limited cranially by the skull and caudally by the sacrum. Vertebral Column: Anatomy injury: such injuries are associated with quadriparesis, loss of sensation below the level of the injury, inability to breathe, and reduced ability to speak. Although neurologic evaluation should easily distinguish the condition from brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification death, the clinical picture may be confounded by a concurrent traumatic brain Brain The part of central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium). Arising from the neural tube, the embryonic brain is comprised of three major parts including prosencephalon (the forebrain); mesencephalon (the midbrain); and rhombencephalon (the hindbrain). The developed brain consists of cerebrum; cerebellum; and other structures in the brain stem. Nervous System: Anatomy, Structure, and Classification injury or the effects of medications. Vigilance and repeated comprehensive neurologic evaluations in combination with neuroimaging Neuroimaging Non-invasive methods of visualizing the central nervous system, especially the brain, by various imaging modalities. Febrile Infant are helpful in establishing the correct diagnosis. Management may be medical or surgical.

References

  1. Starr, R., Tadi, P., & Pfleghaar, N. (2021). Brain death. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538159/ 
  2. Young, G.B. (2021). Diagnosis of brain death. UpToDate. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/diagnosis-of-brain-death
  3. Kaur, P., & Sharma, S. (2018). Recent advances in pathophysiology of traumatic brain injury. Current Neuropharmacology 16(8): 1224–1238. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142406/

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