Implications of ischemic penumbra for the diagnosis of brain death

Braz J Med Biol Res. 1999 Dec;32(12):1479-87. doi: 10.1590/s0100-879x1999001200005.


The data reviewed here suggest the possibility that a global reduction of blood supply to the whole brain or solely to the infratentorial structures down to the range of ischemic penumbra for several hours or a few days may lead to misdiagnosis of irreversible brain or brain stem damage in a subset of deeply comatose patients with cephalic areflexia. The following proposals are advanced: 1) the lack of any set of clinically detectable brain functions does not provide a safe diagnosis of brain or brain stem death; 2) apnea testing may induce irreversible brain damage and should be abandoned; 3) moderate hypothermia, antipyresis, prevention of arterial hypotension, and occasionally intra-arterial thrombolysis may contribute to good recovery of a possibly large subset of cases of brain injury currently regarded as irreversible; 4) confirmatory tests for brain death should not replace or delay the administration of potentially effective therapeutic measures; 5) in order to validate confirmatory tests, further research is needed to relate their results to specific levels of blood supply to the brain. The current criteria for the diagnosis of brain death should be revised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apnea / diagnosis
  • Apnea / physiopathology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / etiology
  • Brain Death / diagnosis*
  • Brain Death / physiopathology
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnosis*
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Coma / physiopathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Function Tests