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      Diagnostic accuracy of the vegetative and minimally conscious state: Clinical consensus versus standardized neurobehavioral assessment


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          Previously published studies have reported that up to 43% of patients with disorders of consciousness are erroneously assigned a diagnosis of vegetative state (VS). However, no recent studies have investigated the accuracy of this grave clinical diagnosis. In this study, we compared consensus-based diagnoses of VS and MCS to those based on a well-established standardized neurobehavioral rating scale, the JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R).


          We prospectively followed 103 patients (55 ± 19 years) with mixed etiologies and compared the clinical consensus diagnosis provided by the physician on the basis of the medical staff's daily observations to diagnoses derived from CRS-R assessments performed by research staff. All patients were assigned a diagnosis of 'VS', 'MCS' or 'uncertain diagnosis.'


          Of the 44 patients diagnosed with VS based on the clinical consensus of the medical team, 18 (41%) were found to be in MCS following standardized assessment with the CRS-R. In the 41 patients with a consensus diagnosis of MCS, 4 (10%) had emerged from MCS, according to the CRS-R. We also found that the majority of patients assigned an uncertain diagnosis by clinical consensus (89%) were in MCS based on CRS-R findings.


          Despite the importance of diagnostic accuracy, the rate of misdiagnosis of VS has not substantially changed in the past 15 years. Standardized neurobehavioral assessment is a more sensitive means of establishing differential diagnosis in patients with disorders of consciousness when compared to diagnoses determined by clinical consensus.

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          The JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised: measurement characteristics and diagnostic utility.

          To determine the measurement properties and diagnostic utility of the JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R). Analysis of interrater and test-retest reliability, internal consistency, concurrent validity, and diagnostic accuracy. Acute inpatient brain injury rehabilitation hospital. Convenience sample of 80 patients with severe acquired brain injury admitted to an inpatient Coma Intervention Program with a diagnosis of either vegetative state (VS) or minimally conscious state (MCS). Not applicable. The CRS-R, the JFK Coma Recovery Scale (CRS), and the Disability Rating Scale (DRS). Interrater and test-retest reliability were high for CRS-R total scores. Subscale analysis showed moderate to high interrater and test-retest agreement although systematic differences in scoring were noted on the visual and oromotor/verbal subscales. CRS-R total scores correlated significantly with total scores on the CRS and DRS indicating acceptable concurrent validity. The CRS-R was able to distinguish 10 patients in an MCS who were otherwise misclassified as in a VS by the DRS. The CRS-R can be administered reliably by trained examiners and repeated measurements yield stable estimates of patient status. CRS-R subscale scores demonstrated good agreement across raters and ratings but should be used cautiously because some scores were underrepresented in the current study. The CRS-R appears capable of differentiating patients in an MCS from those in a VS.
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            Medical aspects of the persistent vegetative state (1). The Multi-Society Task Force on PVS.

            This consensus statement of the Multi-Society Task Force summarizes current knowledge of the medical aspects of the persistent vegetative state in adults and children. The vegetative state is a clinical condition of complete unawareness of the self and the environment, accompanied by sleep-wake cycles, with either complete or partial preservation of hypothalamic and brain-stem autonomic functions. In addition, patients in a vegetative state show no evidence of sustained, reproducible, purposeful, or voluntary behavioral responses to visual, auditory, tactile, or noxious stimuli; show no evidence of language comprehension or expression; have bowel and bladder incontinence; and have variably preserved cranial-nerve and spinal reflexes. We define persistent vegetative state as a vegetative state present one month after acute traumatic or nontraumatic brain injury or lasting for at least one month in patients with degenerative or metabolic disorders or developmental malformations. The clinical course and outcome of a persistent vegetative state depend on its cause. Three categories of disorder can cause such a state: acute traumatic and non-traumatic brain injuries; degenerative and metabolic brain disorders, and severe congenital malformations of the nervous system. Recovery of consciousness from a posttraumatic persistent vegetative state is unlikely after 12 months in adults and children. Recovery from a nontraumatic persistent vegetative state after three months is exceedingly rare in both adults and children. Patients with degenerative or metabolic disorders or congenital malformations who remain in a persistent vegetative state for several months are unlikely to recover consciousness. The life span of adults and children in such a state is substantially reduced. For most such patients, life expectancy ranges from 2 to 5 years; survival beyond 10 years is unusual.
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              The JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised: Measurement characteristics and diagnostic utility11No commercial party having a direct financial interest in the results of the research supporting this article has or will confer a benefit upon the authors or upon any organization with which the authors are associated.


                Author and article information

                BMC Neurol
                BMC Neurology
                BioMed Central
                21 July 2009
                : 9
                : 35
                [1 ]Coma Science Group, Cyclotron Research Center, University of Liege, Belgium
                [2 ]New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, Edison, NJ, USA
                [3 ]CTR Neurorehabilitation Centre, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
                [4 ]Department of Neurology, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sart Tilman, University of Liege, Belgium
                [5 ]Department of Cognitive Sciences, Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit-URPENC, University of Liege, Belgium
                Copyright © 2009 Schnakers et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 10 February 2009
                : 21 July 2009
                Research Article



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