Glasgow Coma Scale

Glasgow Coma Scale
Medical diagnostics
MeSHD015600
LOINC35088-4

The Glasgow coma scale (GCS) is a neurological scale which aims to give a reliable and objective way of recording the conscious state of a person for initial as well as subsequent assessment. A patient is assessed against the criteria of the scale, and the resulting points give a patient score between 3 (indicating deep unconsciousness) and either 14 (original scale) or 15 (more widely used modified or revised scale).

GCS was initially used to assess level of consciousness after head injury, and the scale is now used by first responders, EMS, nurses, and doctors as being applicable to all acute medical and trauma patients. In hospitals it is also used in monitoring chronic patients in intensive care.

The scale was published in 1974 by Graham Teasdale and Bryan J. Jennett, professors of neurosurgery at the University of Glasgow's Institute of Neurological Sciences at the city's Southern General Hospital.

GCS is used as part of several ICU scoring systems, including APACHE II, SAPS II, and SOFA, to assess the status of the central nervous system, as it was designed for. The initial indication for use of the GCS was serial assessments of patients with traumatic brain injury[1] and coma for at least 6 hours in the neurosurgical ICU setting, though it is commonly used throughout hospital departments. A similar scale, the Rancho Los Amigos Scale is used to assess the recovery of traumatic brain injury patients.

Elements of the scale

Glasgow Coma Scale [2]
1 2 3 4 5 6
Eye Does not open eyes Opens eyes in response to painful stimuli Opens eyes in response to voice Opens eyes spontaneously N/A N/A
Verbal Makes no sounds Incomprehensible sounds Utters incoherent words Confused, disoriented Oriented, converses normally N/A
Motor Makes no movements Extension to painful stimuli (decerebrate response) Abnormal flexion to painful stimuli (decorticate response) Flexion / Withdrawal to painful stimuli Localizes to painful stimuli Obeys commands

Note that a motor response in any limb is acceptable.[3] The scale is composed of three tests: eye, verbal and motor responses. The three values separately as well as their sum are considered. The lowest possible GCS (the sum) is 3 (deep coma or death), while the highest is 15 (fully awake person).

Eye response (E)

There are four grades starting with the most severe:

  1. No eye opening
  2. Eye opening in response to pain stimulus. (a peripheral pain stimulus, such as squeezing the lunula area of the patient's fingernail is more effective than a central stimulus such as a trapezius squeeze, due to a grimacing effect).[4]
  3. Eye opening to speech. (Not to be confused with the awakening of a sleeping person; such patients receive a score of 4, not 3.)
  4. Eyes opening spontaneously

Verbal response (V)

There are five grades starting with the most severe:

  1. No verbal response
  2. Incomprehensible sounds. (Moaning but no words.)
  3. Inappropriate words. (Random or exclamatory articulated speech, but no conversational exchange. Speaks words but no sentences.)
  4. Confused. (The patient responds to questions coherently but there is some disorientation and confusion.)
  5. Oriented. (Patient responds coherently and appropriately to questions such as the patient’s name and age, where they are and why, the year, month, etc.)

Motor response (M)

There are six grades:

  1. No motor response
  2. Decerebrate posturing accentuated by pain (extensor response: adduction of arm, internal rotation of shoulder, pronation of forearm and extension at elbow, flexion of wrist and fingers, leg extension, plantarflexion of foot)
  3. Decorticate posturing accentuated by pain (flexor response: internal rotation of shoulder, flexion of forearm and wrist with clenched fist, leg extension, plantarflexion of foot)
  4. Withdrawal from pain (absence of abnormal posturing; unable to lift hand past chin with supraorbital pain but does pull away when nailbed is pinched)
  5. Localizes to pain (purposeful movements towards painful stimuli; e.g., brings hand up beyond chin when supraorbital pressure applied)
  6. Obeys commands (the patient does simple things as asked)
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