Diagnosis of brain death

Neurol Int. 2010 Jun 21;2(1):e2. doi: 10.4081/ni.2010.e2.


Brain death (BD) should be understood as the ultimate clinical expression of a brain catastrophe characterized by a complete and irreversible neurological stoppage, recognized by irreversible coma, absent brainstem reflexes, and apnea. The most common pattern is manifested by an elevation of intracranial pressure to a point beyond the mean arterial pressure, and hence cerebral perfusion pressure falls and, as a result, no net cerebral blood flow is present, in due course leading to permanent cytotoxic injury of the intracranial neuronal tissue. A second mechanism is an intrinsic injury affecting the nervous tissue at a cellular level which, if extensive and unremitting, can also lead to BD. We review here the methodology of diagnosing death, based on finding any of the signs of death. The irreversible loss of cardio-circulatory and respiratory functions can cause death only when ischemia and anoxia are prolonged enough to produce an irreversible destruction of the brain. The sign of such loss of brain functions, that is to say BD diagnosis, is fully reviewed.

Keywords: CT angiography.; EEG; brain death; brain death criteria; multimodality evoked potentials; signs of death; transcranial Doppler.