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Neuro Intensive Care – Prognostication post Cardiac Arrest by Sara Gray

Sara Gray discusses the complex topic of prognostication post cardiac arrest in neuro intensive care.

There is a short list of things that keep Sara up at night. She describes a specific cardiac arrest nightmare she has. She is looking after a patient post cardiac arrest. They remain in a coma after cooling.

As they meet brain death criteria and they are an organ donor, they are transferred to the operating room. Whilst there, they regain spontaneous respirations.

Although this is terrifying these situations do happen! In fact, cases like this defy all efforts at accurate prognostication in post cardiac arrest patients.

Prognostication matters. It matters for the patient, their family and for judicious resource management. The trouble is, that varying guidelines around the world do not agree.

In patients who have not been cooled, then you may start prognostication 72 hours post return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC). Notably, this is because before that time the brain may not have had adequate time to heal from the arrest and the clinical indicators may not be accurate.

In the hypothermia group there are differing guidelines.

Some guidelines suggest doing it the same way – prognostication after 72 hours.

Others suggest 72 hours after achieving normothermia. This equates to 4.5 days. Why the difference? Different medicolegal environments may play a part.

Sara fears looking a family in the eye and telling them the patient won’t wake up and being wrong. Her advice is to wait 4.5 days. Then, she recommends starting with a subgroup of patients with a low motor score on GCS.

From there you can use indicators with the best accuracy which are bilateral absence of pupillary response, corneal reflex, and somatosensory evoked potentials. Bilateral absence of all three equals a dire prognosis.

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Sara Gray

Sara Gray works in Toronto at St. Michael Hospital. She divides her work between Emergency Medicine, Critical Care, wellness programs, public speaking and professional coaching. But her real life revolves around her family, soccer, books, puzzles, sports, travel, friends, cocktails and food. Probably in that order.