The Spectrum of Neurological Recovery
The equivalence of brain death with death is largely, although not universally, accepted. Patients may have suffered insults such as cardiac arrest, vascular catastrophe, poisoning, or head trauma. Early identification of patients at greatest risk of poor neurologic outcome and management in the appropriate critical care setting is the key to maximizing neurological recovery. Recent technological advances and neuroimaging have made it possible to predict neurological reversibility with great accuracy. Significant improvements in therapy such as hypothermia, will improve outcomes in neurological catastrophes, particularly in anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. The clinical spectrum and diagnostic criteria of minimally conscious and vegetative states is reviewed. The current understanding of the differences in prognosis and prediction of meaningful cognitive and functional recovery in each neurological state is described. Establishing an understanding of the ethical principles that guide medical decisions in clinical practice related to different neurological states is evolving into a new field called neuroethics.
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