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Article: Pitfalls in the Diagnosis of Brain Death

Pitfalls in the Diagnosis of Brain Death
Katharina M. Busl and David M. Greer


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.

Humana Press
Published online: 15 May 2009

Pitfalls in the Diagnosis of Brain Death