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What Is the Glasgow Coma Scale?

Comments [37]


What Is the Glasgow Coma Scale?

The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the most common scoring system used to describe the level of consciousness in a person following a traumatic brain injury. Basically, it is used to help gauge the severity of an acute brain injury. The test is simple, reliable, and correlates well with outcome following severe brain injury.

The GCS is a reliable and objective way of recording the initial and subsequent level of consciousness in a person after a brain injury. It is used by trained staff at the site of an injury like a car crash or sports injury, for example, and in the emergency department and intensive care units.

The GCS measures the following functions:

Eye Opening (E)

  • 4 = spontaneous
  • 3 = to voice
  • 2 = to pain
  • 1 = none

Verbal Response (V)

  • 5 = normal conversation
  • 4 = disoriented conversation
  • 3 = words, but not coherent
  • 2 = no words, only sounds
  • 1 = none

Motor Response (M)

  • 6 = normal
  • 5 = localized to pain
  • 4 = withdraws to pain
  • 3 = decorticate posture (an abnormal posture that can include rigidity, clenched fists, legs held straight out, and arms bent inward toward the body with the wrists and fingers bend and held on the chest)
  • 2 = decerebrate (an abnormal posture that can include rigidity, arms and legs held straight out, toes pointed downward, head and neck arched backwards)
  • 1 = none

Clinicians use this scale to rate the best eye opening response, the best verbal response, and the best motor response an individual makes. The final GCS score or grade is the sum of these numbers.

Using the Glasgow Coma Scale

Every brain injury is different, but generally, brain injury is classified as:

  • Severe: GCS 3-8 (You cannot score lower than a 3.)
  • Moderate: GCS 9-12
  • Mild: GCS 13-15

Mild brain injuries can result in temporary or permanent neurological symptoms and a neuro-imaging tests such as CT scan or MRI may or may not show evidence of any damage.

Moderate and severe brain injuries often result in long-term impairments in cognition (thinking skills), physical skills, and/or emotional/behavioral functioning.

Limitations of the Glasgow Coma Scale

Factors like drug use, alcohol intoxication, shock, or low blood oxygen can alter a patient’s level of consciousness. These factors could lead to an inaccurate score on the GCS.

Children and the Glasgow Coma Scale

The GCS is usually not used with younger children, especially those too young to have reliable language skills. The Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale, or PGCS, a modification of the scale used on adults, is used instead. The PGCS still uses the three tests — eye, verbal, and motor responses — and the three values are considered separately as well as together.

Here is the slightly altered grading scale for the PGCS:

Eye Opening (E)

  • 4 = spontaneous
  • 3 = to voice
  • 2 = to pain
  • 1 = none

Verbal Response (V)

  • 5 = smiles, oriented to sounds, follows objects, interacts
  • 4 = cries but consolable, inappropriate interactions
  • 3 = inconsistently inconsolable, moaning
  • 2 = inconsolable, agitated
  • 1 = none

Motor Response (M)

  • 6 = moves spontaneously or purposefully
  • 5 = withdraws from touch
  • 4 = withdraws to pain
  • 3 = decorticate posture (an abnormal posture that can include rigidity, clenched fists, legs held straight out, and arms bent inward toward the body with the wrists and fingers bend and held on the chest)
  • 2 = decerebrate (an abnormal posture that can include rigidity, arms and legs held straight out, toes pointed downward, head and neck arched backwards)
  • 1 = none

Pediatric brain injuries are classified by severity using the same scoring levels as adults, i.e. 3-8 reflecting the most severe, 9-12 being a moderate injury and 13-15 indicating a mild TBI. As in adults, moderate and severe injuries often result in significant long-term impairments.


Teasdale G, Jennett B. Assessment of coma and impaired consciousness. A practical scale. Lancet 1974,2:81-84. PMID 4136544.


Comments [37]

My helmetless motorcycle accident was three weeks ago.  I was GCS3 with BFPD, and my family was told that I wasn't likely to regain consciousness.  Here I am, a bit worse for the wear, but happy to be alive.  To read this material helps me realize just how lucky I am to be alive, and it always helps knowing you're not alone in your struggles.

Struggling much now with the TBI symptoms... overwhelmed so easily with information, and for an IT professional, this has a huge impact.  My biggest struggle now is the narrow band of emotional stability.  I am so easily drawn from my mid-ground to a point of anger or anguish.

Whether you are the injured one or a friend/family member, be patient and remember to back away when you need to.  I don't mean to become angry, and I don't mean to cry, but it seems to be somewhat beyond my control when these things happen now.

Be strong, but also be patient with yourself and with others.

Apr 28th, 2016 5:52pm

I am currently sitting beside my daughters hospital bed, for yesterday she came off a quad bike going slowly around a corner. Initially she had a gcs of 3 for 15mins, which came up to 8 for a further 15 then 13 after that.  She has a torn ligament c1&2 and bruising to her frontal lobe, but she is going well.  God must have sent an army of angels to protect her.  So to all the mums and dads out there sitting beside beds there is hope!  Thank you to the authors of this article, you helped me better grasp what happened and how to explain more succinctly to health workers.

Apr 13th, 2016 3:22pm

Well done you. Look after yourself

Mar 24th, 2016 6:48am

Thank you for sharing!!!

Mar 2nd, 2016 2:09am

I am an RN with experience on both sides of the bed rail. in 2010 I fell off a cliff and fell onto hard bare steel. I had a broken pelvis, an open fracture of my arm (bone sticking out), and a LeForte fracture of my face, broken through the eye sockets, down through the cheek bones and across the bone of my upper mandible. And my skull was so badly fractured my brain was bleeding and had air inside it. I was flown away in the helicopter to the ICU where I used to work and put on a ventilator. of the accident and the following 3 weeks I have no memory, which is probably a good thing. I read that my Glasgow coma scale was 9. For a long time, the first year after I got out of the hospital I was pretty messed up. But here is the thing that can happen.  Every brain cell is attached to other cells in the brain by a long white tail called the axon. And somehow, down in the dark inside the brain, out of the 100 billion cells they can find each other again. This is proof of god's existence. Well, after that I needed four plastic surgeries on my face, three on my arm, and one to restore the sight in one eye. Hey- good as new.

Feb 17th, 2016 4:46pm

When my son was born he was 16 weeks premature. I happened to know the exact day I got pregnant because his father came home for 24 hrs before being deployed again. He died 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. The letter I wrote him telling him the good news never made it in time for him to even know that we were expecting. Our son was born exactly 24 weeks gestation. He was 1lb 7oz and only 12 1/4 inches long. He was diagnosed with a stage 4 inner ventricular hemorrhage to the entire left hemisphere of his brain. Basically the entire left side of his brain was bleeding and coveted in blood clots. The Dr said that he was too weak and little for surgery and that since he was already on life support that the likely ability of our son even making it through was less than 10%. The Dr said that I should stop life support and let him go. He said that even if my son made it that he'd never walk, talk, play, understand, or in any way be a normal child. That night I had him christened and I prayed like I'd never prayed before. My son is now 11 yrs old, almost 5 feet tall, 80+lbs, and he walks, talks, and plays just like a normal child. He is autistic and has a few medical issues but to look at him you'd never know his struggle. He's happy, healthy, and he saved my life during a time that all I wanted to do was give up. So, Dr's, science, medicine...they aren't always right. It's opinions based on the best guess of the medical facts that they have on hand at the given time. Dr's are people. Not God's, not magicians, they cannot alter the outcome of life. All they can do is try. Go with your heart. I'm not sure if it was really God that saved my sons life or if it was luck or destiny or fate but it doesn't hurt to believe and it doesn't hurt to pray. I hope that our story helps someone who is reading it. I hope it gives you comfort and the hope to withstand another day. Every second of life is precious but promised to no one. Live in this moment. Love as hard as you can. Stay strong no matter the battle you are facing or the outcome that will inevitability follow. Only the hardest battles are given to the strongest warrior's......

Feb 10th, 2016 3:38am

My mother went into cardiac arrest a few days ago during an operation at the hospital. After a few minutes of CPR and 6 epi shots, they were able to bring her back. They cooled her body down to 91 degrees to help preserve brain tissue and then warmed her up.  This process took 48 hours.  As of 5:30 pm today, her body temperature is normal and her vitals look good.  That being said, she is in a comatose state at the moment.  She is a peritoneal dialysis​ patient, and the doctors think that some of the anesthesia​ still exists in her peritoneal fluid, so they are exchanging her fluid tonight to see if this helps.  As far as I know, the doctors have not performed a Glasgow Coma test yet.  I read the scale and I would rate her about a 7-8, but I may be completely wrong.  Those of you who were in comas have given me some hope, and I felt that I needed to express this.  Thank you dearly, and if you could please find it in your heart, please pray for my mother Belinda. 

Jan 28th, 2016 1:22am

To the person who commented on 11/28/15, and probably others, the tests can be strong indicators, but the numbers aren't the final word as with any diagnosis. A rotation or visits to the unit will let you know if it's for you or not. I've had quite a few minor TBIs and a moderate in the mid range from a car accident in 1990 that I shouldn't have survived. What initially helped me the most were the nurses in the ICU. Their compassion and caring helped me heal more than anything else. I helped them because they rarely had a patient not in a coma. They were so excited to be able to interact with a patient and I will always be grateful for the care I received. I've been a tax-paying, highly functioning member of society since then. It's not always easy and some adverse effects will probably never go away, especially memory and emotional problems, but that's manageable given how bad it could and should have been. I also have a friend that received a far more serious TBI than I did and she's also beat the odds that she was given. My sister was a neuro nurse and said it was incredibly difficult because so many never recover. Just like any other unit, some can do it and some can't.

Jan 27th, 2016 3:04am

My 14 yr old daughter entered the hospital via air transport with a glasgow scale 3 . with orbital injury and right ear injury . she suffered diffuse axonal injury ( sheering) we were in the hospital 2 months when she walked out the door . within 3 months of that she was in school making straight As! The brain is a truly unique thing. And God is always good !

Jan 26th, 2016 8:36pm

Thank you all for sharing your stories. I am a graduate nurse preparing for my board exam and I have really wondered if this profession is the right place for me. I have also wondered about the Neuro nursing. I've heard stories of it being full of 'no hope' situations. Your stories breath life into me and make me feel there is a hope after all and that if I do my part, a miracle is possible. Thanks!

Nov 28th, 2015 2:04am

My friend was in a motorcycle accident with crushed skull.  He was in a coma for 4 months and the Dr's told his parents he had no brain activity and was a donor.. They never took him off life support.. Then he started to come around,  and after a long rehab he is back to work as a firefighter doing great... You never know..  Now we are going through this with my brother in law.. He was a 3 when he went in.. After 5 days he started to come around and is now off off of life support and trying to speak.. Now he is a 5  we are hoping for a miracle and he gets back to normal..

Oct 22nd, 2015 2:04pm

I am undergoing a bridging program which will enable me sit the Canadian Nursing exam. I must say that i am well informed by the article i read here an they are very simplified. Keep up the good work.

Oct 19th, 2015 12:56pm

I was hospitalised in critical care for a medication overdose by a public hospital early 2013 and the CCU said my GCS dropped but didn't say to what, then went up to 13 then down to 10 and nothing after that to indicate what it was on discharge. How do I find out what it is now?

Oct 1st, 2015 12:27am

I went into a public hospital and was administered an incorrect medication about 15 times the manufacturers recommended dose for a first time patient and was put on Life Support in an Induced Coma for 2 days with a GCS of 10. Can someone tell me if this rating is permanent or does it get better over time please?

Sep 29th, 2015 3:34am

My partner was hit by a car and he had a compound fracture on his femur . The next morning he was in a COMA and we are on day nine and he rated a 3 on this scale. His brain is rittled with fat emboli . What long term hope to we have of recovery or quality of life. specialists said they have NEVER seen this kind of fat emboli in brain. 

Can we use this scale for this typed of trauma or does it matter 

thank you  

Sep 10th, 2015 4:21am

Hello... My name is Lisa I am the survivor of 28 days on the vent. My score was a 4. I do have a brain injury but my recovery was much easier than expected. Miracles really do happen.

Sep 9th, 2015 6:02pm

to the person who posted their question on August 6th about their dad on the ventilator, I have the same question about my mom as you have about your dad. Could you email me at jjojmac@gmail.com if possible? I would like to share stories and see if we can find out more about this together

Aug 12th, 2015 11:29pm

My father had a RTA and taken to hospital with GCS of 10 & I.C hematoma, sooner it dropped down drastically to 3. We shifted him to the best hospital in city. Doctors put him on ventilator for a day and half, then we were told that he had stopped breathing himself and is respirating completely with the help of ventilator. They performed numerous tests on him and after 2 days they declared him "brain stem dead". Was there any chance of recovery if he would have kept on ventilator for some more time? We consulted 5-6 doctors, best of best, but nobody gave us any hope and we were told that the damage to the brain was permanent and irrireversable and there is no point of keeping him on ventilatory support. I just wanted to know whether or not there was any chances of survival or recovery? What is the difference between brain dead and coma?

Aug 6th, 2015 2:59am

My uncle was in a motorcycle accident a month and a 1/2 ago. He went into a rehab facility after a month with barely anything functioning except his right eye and right side. When going in, they scored him a 3. After a wk, they scores him a 10. He has such a long way to go but after reading some of your comments i have more hope. My heart aches seeing him fight for his life but if others could make it, i know he xan!

Jul 8th, 2015 2:16pm

I'm a tbi coma survivor. I was in a coma for a week. I lost my memory, voice and the ability to function when I woke. I started over again from learning how to sit. Doctors can never guess where I came from today. I'm now a college graduate and yoga instructor. I still have my daily struggles. I have dry eyes after the accident and suffered an undiagnosed soft tissue injury that I am still seeking treatment for, but i have come a long ways. So never give up and never quit! Doctors never told me I'd be where I'm at, but I am.

Jul 4th, 2015 12:23am

My daughter Jeniece was in a vehicular accident I Barbados. She was at 3 on the GCS when admitted to the hospital. She climbed from 3-15 in 3 months.

2 yrs later she's doing so much better with her mobility and cognitive ability.


May 25th, 2015 3:47pm

I was rated at 3 after a car accident on my way to start and early shift in an emergency ward where I worked. I had major breaks through my head face neck and back lost total hearing in my left ear and partial in my right I also fractured my left temporal and the left orbit which caused a tennis ball sized haematoma which they feared had done irreversible damage. They expected me to be in a vegetative state if I ever regained consciousness and I would never walk again. Well after a lot of blood sweat tears physio on my left Bell's palsy. People are shocked when they hear what I went through because even though I had major injuries (eye haematoma subsided in hospital) it was all internal so it was very hard for people to understand I had suffered a TBI because they automatically think you would be a "vegetable" even though it ended my medical career, I went on to study forensic psychology criminology behavioural studies/criminal behaviour and loving it. So yes going from nearly dead to now walking talking chewing!! And a second chance at life, the brain really is an amazing cell.

May 22nd, 2015 7:25am

This is really educative, it is an eye opener to me as a psychiatric nurse in making

Apr 1st, 2015 10:24am

Thank you for this information. Doesn't it just wind you right up when people criticize articles when clearly they have no idea?... Person below, the lowest score you can have is 3, so evidently your GCS did not "bounce from 1-3". 

Feb 4th, 2015 12:38pm

well according to what is stated...(Above) I was in A GCS of lvl0-3 for a week...lvl0 for if i remember correctly 24 hrs After that I bounced from gcs1-3.

should'nt I have A Death Cert?????

Jan 27th, 2015 6:02pm

Where can I read the article that was mentioned here?  My son is a missionary in the Philippines.  A little girl who is a child of their friends was run over and drug down the road by a man who was texting while driving. They say her neuro score went from 6 to 5.  We could stand to read something that would give us hope.

Jan 23rd, 2015 11:13pm

thanks for your best info........ 

olyaad JU

Jan 21st, 2015 11:51am

thank you 

Dec 16th, 2014 4:19am

I encourage everyone to read Miracle For Jen by Linda Burrick. Jen was in a coma at a level 3 on the Glasgow Scale after a car wreck.

Dec 8th, 2014 9:53pm

Thank you very much for this article,I have reproduced it to help mentor my nursing team in Northern Nigeria

Robert Simiyu

Dec 1st, 2014 10:50am


Nov 25th, 2014 10:02am

thx for the information, i m the brain injury patient, it let me know about the scenario when i was coma....

Oct 22nd, 2014 11:41am

Thank you for making this article available to the public.  I am currently studying my Diploma of Nursing and found the information extremely helpful for an assessment task. :)

Oct 10th, 2014 2:37am

May I have permission to cite this article? 

Thank you.

By the way, I like your newsletter! Very interesting!

M Schreiber

Aug 3rd, 2014 10:40pm

When should physiotherapy be commenced on a patient with regard to glasgow coma scale, when severe moderate or mild?

Feb 4th, 2014 12:33pm

You can just give use this attribution: Written by the BrainLine team. Used with permission from BrainLine.org, a WETA website. www.BrainLine.org. Thanks!

Apr 8th, 2013 11:21am

I would like to site this article. Who is the author? When is the published date? Thank you

Apr 7th, 2013 2:11am

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