Background: The accuracy of the clinical diagnosis of brain death has never been established.
Methods: Seventy-one consecutive clinically brain dead patients were studied retrospectively. Inclusion criteria were complete cessation of brain function with profound coma of known cause, complete absence of brain stem reflexes, and apnea, all persisting for a least 6 hours. A formal apnea test with a documented Pco2 of > 60 mm Hg was required. All evaluations were done by experienced neurosurgery or neurology resident or staff physicians. The clinical diagnosis was compared with the results of radionuclide angiography and with the clinical course and final outcome.
Results: Seventy patients had no arterial blood flow on radionuclide angiography. One blood flow study was considered to have yielded a false-negative result. No patient recovered or survived.
Conclusions: The clinical diagnosis of brain death is highly reliable when made by experienced examiners using established criteria. In this study, the accuracy was 100%.