Suitability of electroencephalography in brain death determination: a monocentric, 10-year retrospective, observational investigation of 428 cases

Neurol Sci. 2023 Apr;44(4):1369-1373. doi: 10.1007/s10072-022-06547-1. Epub 2022 Dec 12.


Background: We aimed to verify the usefulness of electroencephalographic (EEG) activity recording (that is mandatory according to the Italian law), in addition to two clinical evaluations spaced 6 h, among the procedures of brain death determination (BDD) in adult individuals.

Methods: The study is a monocentric, retrospective analysis of all BDDs performed in the last 10 years at Policlinico Le Scotte in Siena (Italy).

Results: Of the 428 cases revised (mean age 67.6 ± 15.03 years; range 24-92 years), 225 were males and 203 females. In total, 212 out of 428 patients (49.5%) were donors. None of the BDD procedures were interrupted due to the reappearance of EEG activity (neither for clinical reasons) at any sampling time, with the exception of one case that was considered a false negative at critical reinspection of the EEG. In 6/428 cases (1.4%), a cardiac arrest occurred during the 6 h between the first and second evaluation, thus missing the opportunity to take organs from these patients because the BDD procedure was not completed.

Conclusions: Once the initial clinical examination before convening the BDD Commission has ascertained the absence of brainstem reflexes and of spontaneous breathing, and these clinical findings are supported by a flat EEG recording, the repetition of a 30-min EEG twice over a 6 h period seems not to add additional useful information to clinical findings. Current data, if confirmed in other centers and possibly in prospective studies, may help to promote a scientific and bioethical debate in Italy, as well as in other countries where the EEG is still mandatory, for eventually updating the procedures of BDD.

Keywords: Brain death; EEG; Transplantation.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain Death* / diagnosis
  • Electroencephalography* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies