What Is the Glasgow Coma Scale?

Traumatic brain injuries are some of the most severe injuries a person can suffer and some traumatic brain injuries result in periods of unconsciousness. The Glasgow Coma Scale is a tool used by physicians to determine the severity of unconscious periods. Long periods of unconsciousness can have a dramatic effect on the health of the brain and it is vital for attending physicians to understand their patients’ situations and the risk of long-term brain damage.

The Glasgow Coma Scale helps physicians understand the severity of a brain injury and the scale uses several metrics to help determine this. In reality, anyone can refer to the Glasgow Coma Scale after another person suffers a brain injury to determine the severity of the victim’s condition. If your brain injury was caused by the negligence of another party, be sure to speak with a skilled Bakersfield brain injury lawyer to learn more about your legal options.

How Does the Scale Work?

The Glasgow Coma Scale measures three aspects of a brain injury: eye opening, verbal response, and motor response. A brain injury can interfere with all of these factors, and the Glasgow Coma Scale helps first responders ascertain the immediate damage following a brain injury.

The person administering a Glasgow Coma Scale test will first judge the victim’s eye opening. If the victim cannot open his or her eyes it qualifies as “not testable” or “none.” If the victim opens his or her eyes in response to pressure, this qualifies as a score of “2,” and eye opening in response to sound is a score of “3.” If the victim’s eyes spontaneously open, this receives a score of “4.”

The next step of the test is measuring verbal response ability. This scale includes:

  • 5: the victim appears oriented in his or her verbal responses.
  • 4: the victim appears confused based on verbal responses.
  • 3: the victim may speak incoherently.
  • 2: the victim makes sounds, but no intelligible words.
  • 1: the victim cannot make any sounds or words.
  • NT: “not testable,” which only applies to individuals who cannot speak regularly, such as infants.

A similar scale exists for motor response, but it extends to an additional level. This scale includes:

  • 6: the victim can obey simple commands such as touching fingertips together or pointing at objects in the distance.
  • 5: the victim displays localizing motor responses.
  • 4: the victim shows normal flexion in motor responses.
  • 3: the victim shows limited flexion in motor responses.
  • 2: the victim displays extension in motor responses.
  • 1: no motor response.
  • NT: “not testable,” which only applies to victims who cannot offer motor responses even in normal circumstances.

Once the person administering the Glasgow Coma Scale test determines scores for all three verticals for a victim, he or she adds the scores together to determine the severity of the victim’s condition. A mild brain injury typically falls in the range of GCS 13 to 15. A moderate brain injury will have a GCS score of 9 to 12, and a severe brain injury will measure 8 or less on the Glasgow Coma Scale.

Treating Brain Injuries

The Glasgow Coma Scale helps first responders determine a patient’s condition so he or she receives appropriate treatment. Severe and moderate brain injuries are the most likely to cause long-term damage, but the reality is that any type of brain injury has the potential to cause lasting damage. Any brain injury can result in cognitive impairment, memory problems, and permanent neurological damage.

Proper use of the Glasgow Coma Scale can help to ensure that a patient receives appropriate treatment for a brain injury in a timely manner. It is also important for anyone who administers a Glasgow Coma Scale test to remember that other factors like pre-existing medical conditions, shock, and drug and/or alcohol use can influence test results. Medical professionals can administer a separate Glasgow Coma Scale test to children who do not have the same motor and verbal capabilities as adults.