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What is the Glasgow Outcome Scale?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS), named for the city in which it was developed, is a scale which is used to assess a patient during and after recovery from a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or similar neurological insult. This scale is not used in the development of treatment plans, but rather serves as a quick reference which can be used to demonstrate how well the patient has recovered. It should not be confused with the Glasgow Coma Scale, a similar but slightly different scale which will be discussed in more detail below.

Patients are assigned a score between one and five on the Glasgow Outcome Scale once they are well into recovery. In some regions, the scores run from worst to best outcome, while in others, the scale is reversed. The worst possible outcome is, naturally, death, while the best outcome is a full recovery. Patients can also be assigned a score which indicates moderate disability, meaning that they can live independently and engage in many activities, but experience some impairments.

Someone assigned a three on the Glasgow Outcome Scale is considered to have a “severe disability” which may require institutionalization, a live-in care provider, or other measures. These individuals experience severe impairments as a result of their neurological injuries, and they cannot manage many daily tasks, including self care. The term “vegetative state” is used to refer to a patient who is alive, but nonresponsive, although it is important to note that some people diagnosed as being in a vegetative state actually have locked-in syndrome, and are in fact very conscious and aware.

Doctors use the Glasgow Outcome scale to assess the success of treatment, and to have a quick shorthand in a patient's file which will provide a reference for someone who wants information about how well the patient is functioning. The Glasgow Outcome Scale may also be used in assessments to determine eligibility for assistance from the government and from organizations which assist people who have sustained brain trauma.

The related Glasgow Coma Scale is used to assess patients at the time of an injury, and at various stages during recovery, and it may be used for all acute and trauma patients, not just those with obvious neurological injuries. Patients are assigned a score between three (dead or nonresponsive) and 15 (fully conscious) on this scale. This score is determined by assessing the responsiveness of the patient's eyes, the patient's ability to vocalize, and the patient's ability to move.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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