Prognostically important EEG coma patterns in diffuse anoxic and traumatic encephalopathies in adults

J Clin Neurophysiol. 1988 Apr;5(2):161-74. doi: 10.1097/00004691-198804000-00003.


Because of the paucity in the English literature of a detailed and universally accepted EEG grading scale relating to survival after diffuse traumatic and anoxic brain insults, prognostically oriented EEG patterns including recently described abnormalities are presented and discussed. The significance of these patterns may also apply in cases of coma of other etiologies, which can present morphologically similar features. EEG patterns have been classified into five major grades based on an internationally accepted scale. Individual patterns have been more clearly defined on the basis of the morphology of dominant activities, their distribution, persistence, and reactivity to external stimulation. Favorable outcome with survival seems to occur with both grade 1 and the "reactive type" of grade 2 abnormalities, with preservation of normal sleep features, and with frontal monorhythmic delta activity. Prognostically uncertain patterns are "nonreactive" grade 2 abnormalities, diffuse delta activity with grade 3 abnormality, and the "reactive type of alpha pattern coma." The following patterns are suggested to be prognostically malignant if persistent: grade 3 abnormality with small amplitude, diffuse, irregular delta activity; grade 4 ("burst suppression pattern"), in particular when epileptiform discharges are present and with "low-output EEG"; and grade 5 ("isoelectric EEG"). Fatal outcome is also common with the "nonreactive type of alpha pattern coma" and the recently reported "theta pattern coma." These patterns are presented in the illustrations. It is intended that this more detailed subdivision will promote understanding between electroencephalographers using visual EEG assessment in cases of coma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Coma / classification
  • Coma / physiopathology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia, Brain / physiopathology*
  • Prognosis