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Clinical Skill Information Sheet

Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) Assessment

Aim
To safely and effectively assess patient GCS
Indications
A Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) assessment should be conducted on every patient.

Background
The GCS was developed at the University of Glasgows Institute of Neurological
Sciences. It is numerical rating system, originally used for measuring conscious state
following traumatic brain injury, which has become a widely used and recognised
assessment tool for reporting any patients conscious state. The GCS uses three
categories that pertain to different areas of a persons conscious state, they are;
eyes opening, vocal response and motor response. Each unit is given a range of
numbers that correlate with definable levels in consciousness which are then
collated to give a GCS between 3 (deep unconscious) to 15 (normal conscious
level). The best response is recorded for each category.

Summary of the GCS


Eyes Opening Verbal Response Motor Response
4 Spontaneous 5 Orientated to time and place 6 Obeys command
3 Voice 4 Confused speech 5 Localises to pain
2 Pain 3 Inappropriate words 4 Withdraws to pain
1 None 2 Incomprehensible sounds 3 Decorticate
1 None 2 Decerebrate
1 None
Score: 14 - 15 = mild dysfunction
Score: 11- 13 = moderate to severe dysfunction
Score: 10 or less = severe dysfunction

It is important to consider that GCS is only used for adult patients, as there are other
validated rating scales for newborns and paediatrics. As GCS was developed to
assess the conscious state of patients following traumatic brain injury, clinicians
must use their clinical judgement in association with the GCS to assess conscious
state. When communicating a patients GCS to another healthcare professional it is
important to convey the score of each response separately in addition to the total
score. E.g. the patient has a 2 for eyes opening, 2 for verbal response and 4 for
motor response which is a total GCS of 8. Not all adult patients will normally
function with a GCS of 15. For example, a patient who is intoxicated or suffers from
dementia may have a transient or persistent GCS of 14, (eg 4,4,6 = 14).

Bachelor of Paramedic Science


Clinical Skill Information Sheet

Objective Rationale Action


Safety is the first priority 1. Use universal precautions. Always
in managing any patient. wear gloves and goggles when
Manage attending to a patient.
safety
2. You may also want to consider
wearing a face mask and gown.
A loud and clear vocal Spontaneous (4): Observe the patients
stimulus may be required eyes. A patient that has eyes that are
to elicit a response. opening spontaneously receives a 4.

In some cases a pain Voice (3): Supply vocal stimulus by


stimulus may need to be asking the patient loudly and clearly to
applied over a longer open their eyes. If the patient responds
period, sometimes up to by opening their eyes they receive a 3.
15 seconds.
Pain (2): Elicit a pain response by
Always start with the least pushing down behind the ear anterior
amount of pain necessary to the mastoid process. You can also
to elicit a response. push down on the patients finger nail
bed. If the patient then opens their
Do not elicit a pain eyes they receive a score of 2.
response by performing a
knuckle rub on the
patients sternum as this
Assess eyes can cause skin tearing.

If a vocal or painful
stimulus is applied and
the patient opens their
eyes, they attract the
relevant score. If from
then on their eyes remain
open, they receive a 4.
Remember: always give
the best score possible.

None (1): If there is not any response


to pain the patient receives a score of
1.

Bachelor of Paramedic Science


Clinical Skill Information Sheet

Objective Rationale Action


Although these are Orientated (5): Ascertain whether the
subjective observations patient is orientated to time and place.
try to ensure the best Patients that respond appropriately
response is recorded. receive a 5. Ask the patient questions
which you know the answer to, such as;
There are some patients, What day is it today? and Do you
such as those with a know where you are at the moment?.
speech impediment that
may have difficulty Confused (4): If the patient appears
demonstrating a GCS of slightly confused and/or disorientated
15. Therefore make sure during conversation they receive a 4.
this is recorded on any
Assess verbal documentation and when Inappropriate speech (3): If the patient
response handing the patient over has random or muddled speech without
to the receiving health exchange of information during
worker. conversation they receive a 3.

Other examples of people Incomprehensible (2): If the patient is


that may be unable to making sounds but is unable to
achieve a 5 for a verbal formulate words they receive a 2.
response are people
under the influence of
alcohol, edentulous or None (1): A patient that is unable to
intellectually disabled produce sounds receives a 1. This does
people. not refer to aphasia due to any cause,
such as airway obstruction or laryngeal
injury.
A patient that has Obeys Commands (6): A patient who
impaired conscious state responds to you and does what you ask
will score low in the motor receives a 6. In order to assess this,
response category. shake the persons hand upon arrival or
ask them can I hold your wrist to take
An example of a patient your pulse?
that may not receive a
score of 6 is a patient that Localising to pain (5): Elicit a pain
does not have full control response through the techniques
over their limbs. previously mentioned. If the patient
Assess motor
Examples of this include, purposefully attempts to remove the
response
intoxicated patients, stimulus they receive a 5. E.g. the
those with cerebral palsy, patient pushes your hand away if you
previous stroke, or other elicit nail bed pressure.
limb disability.
Withdraws to pain (4): Elicit a pain
Consider a normal response through techniques previously
persons reaction to a mentioned. If the patient pulls away
distal painful stimulus as from the stimulus they receive a 4.
opposed to a central
painful stimulus when

Bachelor of Paramedic Science


Clinical Skill Information Sheet

Objective Rationale Action


eliciting a response. E.g. Abnormal Flexion (Decorticate) (3):
if you press on Elicit a pain response through
someones nail bed, techniques previously mentioned. If the
localising (5 points) may patients arms move toward their chest,
appear the same as their fingers and wrists flex on their
withdrawing (4 points). chest and they point their toes, then
they are said to have decorticate
Decorticate posturing can posturing and receive a 3. This posture
also be remembered by is indicative of head injury and a patient
the position of someone may present in this position prior to any
that has caught-a-cat. painful stimuli.
Alternatively you can
remember that the limbs
turn to the core.

DEcErEbratE can be
remembered by the many
Es in the word which you
could take to mean
extension of the limbs.

It is possible for a person Abnormal Extension (Decerebrate) (2):


to exhibit decorticate Elicit a pain response through
posturing on one side of techniques previously mentioned. If the
their body and patients arms and legs extend, their
decerebrate on the other. wrists rotate away from their body and
they point their toes, then they are said
to have decerebrate posturing and
receive a 2. This posture is also
indicative of head injury and a patient
may present in this position prior to any
painful stimuli.

No Response (1): A patient that does


not have a motor response receives a
1.

Bachelor of Paramedic Science