Although the concept of brain death has been widely accepted, the criteria required for making the diagnosis remain controversial. This prospective study was undertaken to examine the reliability of a set of clinical criteria adopted in Taiwan. One hundred and forty deeply comatose patients (101 men, 39 women; mean age 49.5 (SD 17.6) years) requiring ventilation were studied. Seventy three patients met the clinical criteria for brainstem death; all developed cardiac asystole (97% within seven days) despite continued full cardiorespiratory support. Brainstem death was diagnosed in only two of the 21 patients with hypoxic or ischaemic insults. This stresses the rarity of hypoxic or ischaemic encephalopathy as a cause of brainstem death. The results show that if strict attention is paid to preconditions and exclusions, brainstem death can be reliably diagnosed on clinical grounds alone.
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