Clinical neurophysiologic monitoring and brain injury from cardiac arrest

Matthew A Koenig, Peter W Kaplan, Nitish V Thakor
Neurologic Clinics 2006, 24 (1): 89-106
Electrophysiologic testing continues to play an important role in injury stratification and prognostication in patients who are comatose after cardiac arrest. As discussed previously, however, the adage about treating whole patients, not just the numbers, is relevant in this situation. EEG and SSEP can offer high specificity for discerning poor prognosis as long as they are applied to appropriate patient populations. As discussed previously, EEG and SSEP patterns change during the first hours to days after cardiac arrest and negative prognostic information should not be based solely on studies performed during the first 24 hours. Both electrophysiologic techniques also are susceptible to artifacts that may worsen the electrical patterns artificially and suggest a falsely poor prognosis. EEG is suppressed by anesthetic agents and hypothermia, both of which may produce ECS and burst suppression. Patients who experience respiratory arrest from a toxic ingestion of narcotics or barbiturates, in particular, may present with high-grade EEG patterns initially. Many patients also receive anesthetic medications at the time of tracheal intubation, which may linger beyond their normal half-life in patients who have hepatic or renal insufficiency or concurrent use of interacting medications. SSEP is much less susceptible to sedative anesthetic agents, but hypothermia is demonstrated to prolong evoked potential latencies. As therapeutic hypothermia becomes more common after cardiac arrest, the effect of temperature on electrophysiologic testing needs to be taken into account. The publications discussed previously also emphasize the need to adjust the prognostic value of electro-physiologic tests to the pretest probability of meaningful neurologic recovery in individual patients. Clearly, grade I EEG patterns and normal N20 potentials indicate a much better prognosis in patients who have a short du-ration of cardiac arrest, short duration of coma after resuscitation, and when the studies are performed within the first few days. In patients who remain in coma days after resuscitation and lack appropriate brainstem reflexes, however, even the most normal appearing electrophysiologic patterns do little to change the overall prognosis. Aside from prognostication, electrophysiologic testing holds great promise in defining the basic anatomy and physiology of coma emergence after cardiac arrest. In addition, quantitative EEG and automated evoked potentials have the potential to render these tools less subjective and arcane and more applicable for monitoring patients in the period during and immediately after resuscitation. Quantitative EEG also has great potential asa tool to define the time window for neuroprotective intervention and the means to track the response to such therapies in real time.

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