Breaking Down the Glasgow Coma Scale

The term “traumatic brain injury” seems to indicate an injury so severe that many might assume them to be rare. However, in this context, “traumatic” is meant to be more of an indicator of the cause of a brain injury rather than the severity of the injury itself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as recently as 2013, 2.8 million people in the U.S. suffered TBIs severe enough to require hospital treatment. The families and friends of those in Albuquerque who suffer such injuries no doubt want to know immediately what the lasting effects of them will be. 

The Glasgow Coma Scale test has been mentioned on this blog in the past. This post will delve further into how a score is determined using the scale. Immediately upon receiving a patient with a TBI, clinicians will measure said patient’s responsiveness. The first is to see whether the patient will open their eyes spontaneously or to speech, or whether pain stimulus is required or of the patient even opens their eyes at all. The next is to see if the patient is able to offer a coherent verbal response to standard questions, or whether their responses are confused or unarticulated (or if they can even communicate verbally). Finally, clinicians will test the patient’s motor skills to review how they respond to pain and other external stimuli. 

Per the CDC, the point totals for each category of the GCS are as follows: 

  • Eye opening: 1-4
  • Verbal response: 1-5
  • Motor skills: 1-6

Higher point totals indicate standard responses to the stimuli tests. Thus, one with a GCS score over 13 is said to have a good chance of recovery with minimal to no lingering effects. Those with lower scores may be left with cognitive deficits that will require extended (or even lifelong) care. 

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