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What does 'brain dead' mean?

When an individual is pronounced 'brain dead,' it means that the brain has completely died and will never be able to recover. However, in brain death cases, the heart is still beating and the lungs are still breathing through machine assistance, so it can be hard for loved ones to imagine that their loved one is actually gone.

According to most doctors, brain dead individuals are truly dead, even if their other organs are still operating through the help of machines. For this reason, some doctors do not like to use the words "life support" to refer to ventilator systems and other machines that are used to keep blood flow and breathing constant in brain death victims. This can make it easier for loved one's to let go and finally disconnect the machine.

Brain death usually begins as the result of a catastrophic neurological injury. Such an injury can happen due to stroke from a ruptured blood vessel, a traumatic brain injury from an accident or due to a cardiac event like a heart attack. Ultimately in these cases, the brain is denied vital nutrients and oxygen that it requires to survive.

Still, it is vital that doctors recognize the difference between a brain dead patient and a patient that is in a coma. For this reason, unconscious patients should be monitored at least one time per hour to check for certain kinds of responses like moving eyes, talking, mumbling and other things.

Loved ones of brain dead accident victims may have strong claims for financial recovery relating to medical costs and wrongful death damages if the accident was caused by another party's negligence.

Source: WebMD, "What brain-dead means," accessed July 27, 2015

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