Objective: To evaluate somatosensory and auditory primary cortices using somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) and middle latency auditory evoked potentials (MLAEPs) in the prognosis of return to consciousness in comatose patients.
Methods: SEPs and MLAEPs were recorded in 131 severe comatose patients. Latencies and amplitudes were measured. Coma had been caused by transient cardiac arrest (n=49), traumatic brain injury (n=22), stroke (n=45), complications of neurosurgery (n=12) and encephalitis (n=3). One month after the onset of coma patients were classified as awake, still comatose or dead. Three months after (M3), they were classified into one of the 5 categories of the Glasgow outcome scale (GOS).
Results: At M3, 41.2% were dead, 47.3% were conscious (GOS 3-5) and 11.5% had not recovered consciousness. None of the patients in whom somatosensory N20 and auditory Pa were absent did return to consciousness and in the post-anoxic group, reduced cortical amplitude too was always associated with bad outcome. Conversely, N20 and Pa were present, respectively, in 33/69 and 34/69 patients who did not recover.
Conclusions: The prognostic value of SEPs and MLAEPs in comatose patients depends on the cause of coma. Measurement of response amplitudes is informative. Abolition of cortical SEPs and/or cortical MLAEPs precludes post-anoxic comatose patients from returning to consciousness (100% specificity). In any case, the presence of short latency cortical somatosensory or auditory components is not a guarantee for return to consciousness. Late components should then be recorded.