Tag Archives: GCS

Could There Be A Simpler GCS?

The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) has been around forever. Or really, for about 45 years. It was actually developed in the early 1970s and known as the Coma Index. It was further refined into the GCS, when 1 was selected as the minimum component score. Ever since, it has been used as a common language among clinicians to communicate gross neurologic function and trends.

But it is still somewhat complicated. Oh no it’s not, you say? Then why do so many trauma resuscitation rooms have it posted on the wall? There are three components, each with a different number of possible values. And frankly, some are harder to remember than others. Decerebrate vs decorticate, right?

So what if someone told you that a single GCS component works just about as well as the whole bunch? Researchers have been piecing this together for years, focusing on the motor component of GCS (mGCS). There are two flavors of simplified score: mGCS and Simplified Motor Score (SMS). The mGCS is just what it sounds like: the full motor component of GCS, ranging from 1-6. The SMS is further simplified from the mGCS: mGCS of 1-4 tranlsates to SMS 0, mGCS 5 = SMS 1, and mGCS 6 = SMS 2. In my opinion, this is actually more complicated because you have to remember not only the 6 mGCS levels, but also the cutoffs to convert it to SMS.

Finally, a group from Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland performed a nice meta-analysis of the best individual studies.

Here are the factoids:

  • Only papers that compared total GCS (tGCS) to mGCS or SMS were included, and only if they analyzed a receiving operator characteristic curve. The statistics appeared sound.
  • tGCS was very slightly better than either mGCS or SMS at predicting:
    • in-hospital mortality
    • neurosurgical intervention
    • emergency intubation
    • severe TBI

Bottom line: Overall, the total GCS is slightly (just a few percent) better at doing the things listed above, compared to the motor score alone or the “simplified” (really?) motor score. Is this clinically significant in the field? Probably not. And its mere simplicity makes it appealing. 

However, there is one major problem to adopting the mGCS for use outside the hospital. Inertia. As I mentioned, we have been using the full GCS score for almost 50 years. Pretty much every trauma professional is familiar with the GCS or knows where to look up the details. But I suspect that those clincicians who assume care of the patient once in the hospital, and especially the intensive care unit (neurosurgeons) will never allow the use of an abbreviated scale. Good idea, but sorry, it won’t catch on in the real world.

Is The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) Getting Too Old?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of death from trauma worldwide. The assessment of TBI was revolutionized in 1976 when the GCS scale was first introduced. Shortly after its introduction, it was found to be predictive of outcome after brain injury. But it does have some drawbacks: it is somewhat complicated, and interrater reliability is low.

Interestingly, a number of studies have shown that the motor component of GCS is nearly as accurate as the full score in predicting survival. Thus, the Simplified Motor Score (SMS) was introduced as a possible substitute for the GCS in 2007. It was found to be equivalent for predicting survival when applied in the ED.

SMS scoring:

  • Obeys commands = 2
  • Localizes pain = 1
  • Withdraws (or less) to pain = 0

So can this scale be validated in the field when applied by prehospital providers?

Nearly 10 years of data (almost 20,000 patients) from the Denver Health trauma registry was analyzed to attempt to validate SMS when used by EMS. Although the statistics were not perfect, they found that GCS and SMS were equivalent for predicting the presence of a brain injury, need for emergency intubation, need for neurosurgical intervention, and death. Interestingly, they found that both SMS and GCS were not quite as good at predicting overall outcomes as previously thought.

Bottom line: The simplified motor score is a simple system that has now been shown to be as accurate as GCS in predicting severity and outcome from head injury. To be clear, though, neither is a perfect system. They must still be combined with clinical and radiographic assessments to achieve the best accuracy. But SMS can and should be used both in-hospital and prehospital to get a quick assessment, and may help determine early intervention and need for activating the trauma team.

References:

  • Assessment of coma and impaired consciousness: a practical scale. Lancet 2:81-84, 1976.
  • Assessment and prognosis of coma after head injury. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 34:45-55, 1976.
  • Validation of the simplified motor score in the out-of-hospital setting for the prediction of outcomes after traumatic brain injury. Ann Emerg Med, in press, Aug 2011.

Nail Discoloration After Severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Occasionally, patients who have had a severe brain injury but recovered relatively quickly may present with complaints of odd nail discoloration. This may involve fingernails and/or toenails. What gives?

This is actually a byproduct of repeated exams to determine the Glasgow Coma Scale score. A common way to determine the motor component is to squeeze the fingertip or toetip. I’ve seen some neurosurgeons use a pen to apply a great deal of force to the nail.

The discoloration is a resolving subungual hematoma. You may see different colors under different nails, depending on the age of the hematoma. Amaze your colleagues with your knowledge on this one!