Serial clinical examination represents the most fundamental and basic form of neurological monitoring, and is often the first and only form of such monitoring in patients. Even in patients subjected to physiological monitoring using a range of technologies, the clinical examination remains an essential tool to follow neurological progress. Key aspects of the clinical examination have now been systematized into scoring schemes, and address consciousness, pain, agitation, and delirium (PAD). The Glasgow Coma Scale has been the traditional tool to measure consciousness, but the full outline of unresponsiveness (FOUR) score has recently been validated in a variety of settings, and at present, both represent clinically useful tools. Assessment of PAD in neurologically compromised patients present special challenges. For pain, the Numeric Rating Scale is the preferred initial approach, with either the Behavioral Pain Scale or the Critical Care Pain Observation Tool in subjects who are not able to respond. The Nociception Coma Scale-Revised may be useful in patients with severe disorders of consciousness. Conventional sedation scoring tools for critical care, such as the Richmond Area Sedation Scale (RASS) and Sedation–Agitation Scale (SAS) may provide reasonable tools in some neurocritical care patients. The use of sedative drugs and neuromuscular blockers may invalidate the use of some clinical examination tools in others. The use of sedation interruption to assess neurological status can result in physiological derangement in unstable patients (such as those with uncontrolled intracranial hypertension), and is not recommended.
- Neurologic examination