Understanding what AVPU stands for and how to use it can be the difference between life and death when responding to fluid volume deficiency. A mnemonic acronym known as AVPU has been created to make remembering easier.
First responders and healthcare providers use it in multiple medical scenarios and can save effortless time when diagnosing patients with signs of dehydration or shock due to fluid loss.
In this blog post, we will break down the AVPU meaning, explain each part for improved comprehension, discuss its usage in various medical scenarios, discuss its advantages over traditional methods like vitals measurements; furthermore, providing you with the basics needed to start using AVPU successfully during emergencies.
Table of Contents
What is AVPU Scale?
AVPU stands for Alert, Voice, Pain, Unresponsive and is a modified version of the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) used to assess physiological response in an emergency. It evaluates a patient’s mental status and neurological functioning by determining their responsiveness when presented with certain stimuli.
AVPU Mnemonic Meaning
The Avpu acronym has four distinct parts, each starting with a letter from the scale.
- • A stands for Alert: meaning the patient is awake and can respond to questions and commands.
- • V stands for Verbal: the patient is awake but unable to answer any questions or commands, but still able to utter a few words.
- • P stands for Pain: the patient is unresponsive but will react to painful stimuli like pinching or prodding.
- • U stands for Unresponsive: the patient is unresponsive and does not respond to verbal or physical stimuli.
Here is the explanation for each of the letters in AVPU:
The patient will be conscious and alert; they can respond to verbal commands and instructions.
To determine the patient’s level of orientation, you can ask them basic questions, such as simple ones.:
- “What is your name?”
- “Do you know where you are?”
- “What day is it?”
- “Who is the president of the United States?”
- “Do you know the year?”
When assessing a patient’s level of alertness, it is essential to avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask questions that require the patient to provide detailed responses. This allows the clinician to evaluate their answer using an alert state scale of 1 to 4 based on specificity. By doing so, they can more accurately gauge the patient’s mental condition.
A patient is alert if they:
- Respond promptly and accurately to verbal stimuli.
- Recognize their environment.
- Are verbally fluent with an appropriate response rate.
A patient who appears to be unresponsive may still respond to verbal stimulation.
Even if they seem asleep, they will typically give some form of response when addressed in a conversational tone – these responses often manifest as eye movements, vocalizations, or motor activity.
Thus, it is essential to talk with the patient – even if there is seemingly no reaction – and ask questions to assess their consciousness.
The patient may open their eyes upon hearing the rescuer’s voice asking, “Are you okay?”. Even a grunt, moan, or slight limb movement may indicate that they are conscious and alert.
It is essential to note the patient’s responses as appropriate or inappropriate to assess their orientation. If patients respond to verbal stimuli and remain alert, they are considered awake. You must track these responses carefully when evaluating the patient.
You can’t classify a patient as verbally stimulated if they:
- Respond slowly and inaccurately to verbal stimuli.
- Don’t recognize their environment.
- Are verbally confused with an inappropriate response rate.
A patient is verbally stimulated if they:
- Respond to verbal stimuli.
- Can communicate, even if it is a grunt or moan.
- Make appropriate responses.
The patient is unresponsive to verbal commands but can be aroused or become more conscious with physical stimuli like a gentle pinch on the skin or light pressure on the sternum. It is essential to use gentle, careful force when assessing a patient’s response to Pain. Too much stress can cause further damage or put the patient at risk for more severe injury.
When a patient has some degree of consciousness (a fully conscious individual would not require pain stimulation), they may react to the application of a central or peripheral pain stimulus, such as sternal rub or squeezing their fingers, by using their voice, moving their eyes, or moving any part of their body – including abnormal posturing. The response can be assessed against three component measures.
Interpreting Pain Stimulus :
- No response – The patient does not respond to any stimulation, meaning they either have no conscious activity or are unconscious.
- Delayed response – The patient responds slowly or with a delayed reaction to the stimulation, indicating they are in moderate unconsciousness.
- Immediate response – The patient responds immediately and appropriately to the pain stimulus,
A patient is considered to be responding to Pain if they:
- Make movements or sounds in response to physical pressure.
- React when their skin is pinched or lightly grabbed.
- Complain of discomfort when touched in certain areas of the body.
The patient is not responsive to external stimuli; they remain unconscious and unresponsive.
A patient is considered to be unresponsive if they:
- Do not respond to verbal or physical stimuli.
- Remain in a deep unconscious state.
- Are entirely unresponsive to any external stimulation.
An AVPU score of anything less than “A” in first aid often indicates getting help, as the patient may need more definitive care. In healthcare facilities, caregivers usually use a score under “A” as the patient’s baseline.
In some emergency medical services protocols, “Alert” can be broken down into a scale of one to four. For example, a vigilant patient would be categorized as “alert and oriented x 4” if it accurately identifies time, name, location, and event.
EMS personnel may start by assessing AVPU, followed by GCS assessment if the score is lower than “A.”
The AVPU scale is inappropriate for ongoing neurological monitoring of patients; in this situation, the Glasgow Coma Scale would be more suitable.
Comparison with other classification systems
The AVPU scale is a simpler version of the Glasgow Coma Scale and can assess neurological functioning quickly. The GCS is more precise for ongoing assessment, but its complexity may make it difficult to use during emergencies or in situations where time is of the essence; this is why AVPU is an excellent choice for first responders.
The AVPU scale is also more suitable for non-medical personnel, as it’s easier to understand and can be used more quickly than other classification systems. Additionally, AVPU requires no special equipment or instruments; it can be conducted with a flashlight and physical contact.
How to Use the AVPU Scale?
It is essential to assess a patient’s level of consciousness – A, V, P, or U – when first responding to an emergency. If the patient is awake and alert but has an altered mental state, use focused history (SAMPLE, OPQRST) and physical examination techniques to identify potential causes such as hypoglycemia or stroke.
In cases where the patient is V, P, or U, acting quickly to determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment is essential. For example, an unconscious patient may be unable to maintain their airway.
It is also essential to regularly check AVPU during transport and treatment to assess whether the patient’s condition is improving, worsening or responding to treatment.
Clinical Significance of the AVPU Scale
Utility in First Aid, Pre-Hospital Care, & Emergency Care
In emergencies outside the hospital, the AVPU scale is an essential tool utilized by first responders, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics. The acronym stands for Alert, Verbal, Pain, and Unresponsive. This refers to different levels of responsiveness as evaluated by healthcare providers.
An Alert patient will be responsive to external stimuli such as sound or touch. They will be conscious, aware of their surroundings, and able to communicate coherently. In contrast, a Verbal patient can speak, but their responses may not be coherent or directly related to the situation. A patient in Pain will respond to painful stimuli, such as a pinch or a light slap on the cheek. Finally, an Unresponsive patient will not show any response to external stimuli.
The AVPU scale is a quick and efficient way for first responders and pre-hospital care providers to assess the level of consciousness of a patient. This evaluation provides vital information that can help to inform decisions about the most appropriate treatment course and patient transport options.
Utility in Hospital Care & Long Term Healthcare Facilities
In healthcare facilities, the AVPU scale is often utilized to determine the level of observation and monitoring required for patients. For example, an Alert patient may not require continuous monitoring, whereas a Verbal or in Pain patient will require closer observation. In contrast, an Unresponsive patient will require intensive compliance, including frequent vital signs monitoring, as they are at high risk of quickly deteriorating.
Using the AVPU scale in hospital settings can help healthcare providers prioritize resources and ensure that patients receive the most appropriate level of care. This may include increased nursing resources, frequent observation, or transferring patients to more intensive care areas if necessary.
Correlation to the Glasgow Coma Scale & Airway Protection:
The AVPU scale is similar to the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) in that scores of 8 or lower indicate that healthcare providers should consider airway protection. Patients scoring “P” or “U” may have diminished or absent gag reflexes and, therefore an inability to maintain a clear airway; this should prompt medical professionals to establish pulmonary protection measures to avoid compromise or aspiration.
The AVPU scale correlates to distinct GSC ranges, as outlined below.
- Alert (A) = GCS 14-15
- Verbal (V) = GCS 12-13
- Pain (P) = GCS 5-6
- Unresponsive (U) = GCS 3-5
AVPU can help healthcare providers identify patients at risk for airway compromise, requiring increased monitoring and protection measures. With proper training, nurses can utilize the AVPU scale to quickly assess a patient’s neurological status and provide timely treatment.
GCS Vs. AVPU Scale
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a 15-point scale that evaluates a patient’s level of consciousness based on their motor, verbal, and eye response. This evaluation helps determine the severity of a brain injury or illness. The GCS score ranges from 3 to 15, with 15 being the highest level of consciousness.
However, the GCS scale has some limitations. It only evaluates a patient’s level of consciousness at a specific moment, which is why taking a patient’s GCS score multiple times is recommended. Additionally, the GCS score can be challenging to assess in some patients, particularly those with difficulty communicating due to language barriers, intubation, or cognitive impairment.
The AVPU scale is a simple, four-point scale for Alert, Verbal, Pain, and Unresponsive. It’s quick and easy to use, making it a popular choice in emergencies. LIKE THE GCS SCALE, the AVPU scale measures a patient’s response to stimulus without assessing their motor, verbal, or eye response. However, the AVPU scale is more detailed than the GCS scale and can’t be used to evaluate specific conditions like a brain injury based on a patient’s response.
For example, a patient in an emergency room who is Alert (A) according to the AVPU scale would have a score of 14-15 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, while an Unresponsive patient (U) according to the AVPU scale would have a score of 3-5 on the GCS.
Overall, the AVPU scale is an essential tool utilized in emergencies to assess a patient’s level of consciousness quickly. By understanding the correlation between the AVPU and Glasgow Coma Scales, healthcare providers can ensure that patients receive timely and appropriate care based on their neurological status. The AVPU scale is less detailed than the GCS, but it can be combined with other assessments to accurately evaluate a patient’s neurological status and provide appropriate treatment.
Mrs. Marie Brown has been a registered nurse for over 25 years. She began her nursing career at a Level I Trauma Center in downtown Chicago, Illinois. There she worked in the Emergency Department and on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. After several years, she moved to the Midwest and continued her nursing career in a critical care setting. For the last 10 years of her nursing career, Mrs. Brown worked as a flight nurse with an air ambulance service. During this time, she cared for patients throughout the United States.