Patients with terminal brain stem herniation experience global physiological consequences and represent a challenging population in critical care practice as a result of multiple factors. The first factor is severe depression of consciousness, with resulting compromise in airway stability and lung ventilation. Second, with increasing severity of brain trauma, progressive brain edema, mass effect, herniation syndromes, and subsequent distortion/displacement of the brain stem follow. Third, with progression of intracranial pathophysiology to terminal brain stem herniation, multisystem consequences occur, including dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, depletion of stress hormones, and decreased thyroid hormone bioavailability as well as biphasic cardiovascular state. Cardiovascular dysfunction in phase 1 is a hyperdynamic and hypertensive state characterized by elevated systemic vascular resistance and cardiac contractility. Cardiovascular dysfunction in phase 2 is a hypotensive state characterized by decreased systemic vascular resistance and tissue perfusion. Rapid changes along the continuum of hyperperfusion versus hypoperfusion increase risk of end-organ damage, specifically pulmonary dysfunction from hemodynamic stress and high-flow states as well as ischemic changes consequent to low-flow states. A pronounced inflammatory state occurs, affecting pulmonary function and gas exchange and contributing to hemodynamic instability as a result of additional vasodilatation. Coagulopathy also occurs as a result of consumption of clotting factors as well as dilution of clotting factors and platelets consequent to aggressive crystalloid administration. Each consequence of terminal brain stem injury complicates clinical management within this patient demographic. In general, these multisystem consequences are managed with mechanism-based interventions within the context of caring for the donor’s organs (liver, kidneys, heart, etc.) after death by neurological criteria. These processes begin far earlier in the continuum of injury, at the moment of terminal brain stem herniation. As such, aggressive, mechanism-based care, including hormonal replacement therapy, becomes clinically appropriate before formal brain death declaration to support cardiopulmonary stability following terminal brain stem herniation.

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