Lack of standardization in the use of the glasgow coma scale: Results of international surveys

Florence C M Reith*, Paul M. Brennan, Andrew I R Maas, Graham M. Teasdale

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) was introduced 40 years ago and has received world-wide acceptance. The GCS rates eye, motor, and verbal responses to assess the level of consciousness. Concerns have been expressed with regard to reliability and consistency of assessments. We considered that lack of standardization in application techniques and reporting of the GCS may have contributed to these concerns, and aimed to assess current procedures in its use. Questionnaire-based assessments were conducted by an online survey and during neurosurgical training courses. Overall, 616 participants were recruited, representing 48 countries and including physicians and nurses from different disciplines. Use of the GCS was reported by nearly all participants for assessment of patients with traumatic brain injury, but not for all patients with a reduced level of consciousness from other causes (78%). Major differences were found regarding the type of stimulus applied when patients do not obey commands: Nail bed pressure, supraorbital pressure, trapezius or pectoralis pinch, and sternal rub were all frequently used, whereas 25% of responders reported to never use a peripheral stimulus. Strategies for reporting the GCS varied greatly, and 35% of participants limited the reporting to a summary score. Moreover, different approaches were used when one of the components could not be assessed. Overall, the surveys have identified a general lack of standardization in assessment and reporting of the GCS. The results illustrate the need for continued education to improve reliability of assessments through guidance to a standard approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-94
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2015


  • consciousness
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • humans
  • questionnaires
  • reproducibility of results


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