Understanding the difficult diagnosis of brain death Understanding the difficult diagnosis of brain death

Brain death is defined as a death based on the lack of neurologic functions. This means that, as a result of the damage suffered, blood contribution to brain is blocked and the brain one dies.

A head trauma due to accident, falls, bullet injury, brain hemorrhages resulting from aneurisms and seizures, drug overdoses, suffocation and poisoning, among others, are some of the causes of brain death.

It is a doctor who performs the tests required to reach this diagnostic. These tests include an examination addressed to determine if the patient has reflexes or not, as well as if he can breathe for himself. In most of the cases, these tests are made twice, with an interval of several hours in order to assure the result. It is important to take into account that, spinal reflexes, such as shivering or muscle contractions are possible even when the brain is dead. The National Council of Donor Families prepared a document with medical review in order to respond the most common questions made by the relatives of patients with this type of dictums.  

  1. If the patient is dead, how is that his heart beats? While the heart has oxygen, it can continue working. The respirator provides oxygen in sufficient amount to keep it vital, without this help it would had stopped beating.
  2. Is it possible that the patient is just in a coma? No. A patient in coma continues having brain activity. Once the brain death diagnostic is a fact, there is not any possibility of recovery.
  3. Does a patient with brain death feel or suffer any pain? The patient feels no pain or suffers in any way.
  4. After brain death is declared, what happens? A professional will talk with patient’s family about certain decisions to be made, such as withdrawing the respirator and the possibility of donating some of his organs and tissues.

Related: Accepting death as a cycle of life