Neurocritical Care

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 276–287

Pitfalls in the Diagnosis of Brain Death

Review Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12028-009-9231-y

Cite this article as:
Busl, K.M. & Greer, D.M. Neurocrit Care (2009) 11: 276. doi:10.1007/s12028-009-9231-y


Since the establishment of the concept of declaring death by brain criteria, a large extent of variability in the determination of brain death has been reported. There are no standardized practical guidelines, and major differences exist in the requirements for the declaration of brain death throughout the USA and internationally. The American Academy of Neurology published evidence-based practice parameters for the determination of brain death in adults in 1995, requiring the irreversible absence of clinical brain function with the cardinal features of coma, absent brainstem reflexes, and apnea, as well as the exclusion of reversible confounders. Ancillary tests are recommended in cases of uncertainty of the clinical diagnosis. Every step in the determination of brain death bears potential pitfalls which can lead to errors in the diagnosis of brain death. These pitfalls are presented here, and possible solutions identified. Suggestions are made for improvement in the standardization of the declaration of brain death.


Brain deathComaDiagnosis

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurology, ACC 739AMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA