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Physicians, health care workers, members of the clergy, and laypeople throughout the world have accepted fully that a person is dead when his or her brain is dead. Although the widespread use of mechanical ventilators and other advanced critical care services have transformed the course of terminal neurologic disorders. Vital functions can now be maintained artificially for a long period of time after the brain has ceased to function. There is a need to diagnose brain death with utmost accuracy and urgency because of an increased awareness amongst the masses for an early diagnosis of brain death and the requirements of organ retrieval for transplantation. Physicians need not be, or consult with, a neurologist or neurosurgeon in order to determine brain death. The purpose of this review article is to provide health care providers in India with requirements for determining brain death, increase knowledge amongst health care practitioners about the clinical evaluation of brain death, and reduce the potential for variations in brain death determination policies and practices amongst facilities and practitioners. Process for brain death certification has been discussed under the following: 1. Identification of history or physical examination findings that provide a clear etiology of brain dysfunction. 2. Exclusion of any condition that might confound the subsequent examination of cortical or brain stem function. 3. Performance of a complete neurological examination including the standard apnea test and 10 minute apnea test. 4. Assessment of brainstem reflexes. 5. Clinical observations compatible with the diagnosis of brain death. 6. Responsibilities of physicians. 7. Notify next of kin. 8. Interval observation period. 9. Repeat clinical assessment of brain stem reflexes. 10. Confirmatory testing as indicated. 11. Certification and brain death documentation.
In the practice of critical care, ‘the care of a severely brain injured patient ’ is one of the toughest challenges for a critical care physician. Initial therapy provided for patients with severe brain injury or insult, is directed towards preservation and restoration of neuronal function. When this primary treatment is unsuccessful and the patient's condition evolves to brain death, the critical care physician has the responsibility to diagnose brain death with certainty and to offer the patient's family the opportunity to donate organs and / or tissues.
There is a clear difference between severe brain damage and brain death. The physician must understand this difference, as brain death means that life support is futile, and brain death is the principal prerequisite for the donation of organs for transplantation.
This review focuses on the clinical determination of brain death in adults and children, including the potential confounding factors, and provides an overview of valid confirmatory tests
Historically death was defined by the presence of putrefaction or decapitation, failure to respond to painful stimuli, or the apparent loss of observable cardio respiratory action. The widespread use of mechanical ventilators that prevent respiratory arrest has transformed the course of terminal neurologic disorders. Vital functions can now be maintained artificially after the brain has ceased to function. In 1968, an ad hoc committee at Harvard Medical School reexamined the definition of brain death and defined irreversible coma, or brain death, as unresponsiveness and lack of receptivity, the absence of movement and breathing, the absence of brain-stem reflexes, and coma whose cause has been identified.
Brain death is defined as the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain, including the brainstem. The three essential findings in brain death are coma, absence of brainstem reflexes, and apnoea. An evaluation for brain death should be considered in patients who have suffered a massive, irreversible brain injury of identifiable cause. A patient determined to be brain dead is legally and clinically dead.
The diagnosis of brain death is primarily clinical. No other tests are required if the full clinical examination, including each of two assessments of brain stem reflexes and a single apnoea test, are conclusively performed.
After determining that the patient meets the above prerequisites, the physician should conduct the apnoea test as follows:
Immediately draw an arterial blood sample and analyze arterial blood gas.
The following manifestations are occasionally seen and should not be misinterpreted as evidence for brainstem function:
The diagnosis of brain death is primarily clinical. No other tests are required if the full clinical examination, including each of two assessments of brain stem reflexes and a single apnoea test, is conclusively performed. In the absence of either complete clinical findings consistent with brain death, or confirmatory tests demonstrating brain death, brain death cannot be diagnosed and certified. These guidelines apply to patients one year of age or older.
The facility must make diligent efforts to notify the person closest to the patient that the process for determining brain death is underway. Consent need not be obtained but requests for reasonable accommodation based on religious or moral objections should be noted and referred to appropriate hospital staff. Where family members object to invasive confirmatory tests, physicians should rely on the guidance of hospital counsel and the ethics committee.
After the first clinical exam, the patient should be observed for a defined period of time for clinical manifestations that are inconsistent with the diagnosis of brain death. Most experts agree that a 6 hour observation period is sufficient and reasonable in adults and children over the age of 1 year. Longer intervals are advisable in young children.
The examination as described above should be repeated in full and documented. When clinical circumstances prohibit completion of any steps in the clinical examination, these should be documented.
When the full clinical examination, including both assessments of brain stem reflexes and the apnoea test, is conclusively performed, no additional testing is required to determine brain death.
In some patients, skull or cervical injuries, cardiovascular instability, or other factors may make it impossible to complete parts of the assessment safely. In such circumstances, a confirmatory test verifying brain death is necessary. These tests may also be used to reassure family members and medical staff.
Any of the suggested tests may produce similar results in patients with catastrophic brain damage who do not fulfill the clinical criteria of brain death. The confirmatory tests are.
Brain death can be certified by a single physician privileged to make brain death determinations. However, before a patient can become an organ donor, New York State law requires that the time of brain death must be certified by the physician who attends the donor at his death and one other physician, neither of whom shall participate in the process of transplantation. This requirement ensures that all evaluations meet accepted medical standards, and that all participants can have confidence that brain death determination has not been influenced by extraneous factors, including the needs of potential organ recipients.
When two physicians are required to certify the time of death, i.e., when organ donation is planned, both physicians should affirm that the clinical evaluation meets accepted medical standards, and that the data fully support the determination of brain death. Generally, both physicians should observe the patient, review the medical record, and note whether any additional information is required to make a definitive determination. Neither physician should certify brain death unless all aspects of the determination have been completed.
Medical Record Documentation: All phases of the determination of brain death should be clearly documented in the medical record; The medical record must indicate:
When a patient is certified as brain dead and the ventilator is to be disconnected, the family should be treated with sensitivity and respect. If family members wish, they may be offered the opportunity to attend while the ventilator is disconnected. However, family members should be prepared for the possibly disturbing clinical activity that they may witness when organ donation is contemplated, ventilatory support will conclude in the operating room and family attendance is not appropriate.
Determination of Brain Death in Children Less Than One Year of Age
The recommended observation period depends on the age of the patient and the laboratory tests utilized. It is assumed that the child was born at full term Between the ages of 2 months and 1 year, an interval of at least 24 hours should be used. Between the ages of 7 days and 2 months, the minimum interval should be 48 hours.
Source of Support: Nil
Conflict of Interest: None declared.