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Doctors define coma as “prolonged state of unconsciousness” experienced by the patient who does not respond to stimuli and are absolutely not aware of his/her surroundings but other vital signs like breathing and blood circulation continue. When the period of coma is too long, the condition is medically defined as persistent vegetative state. However, in usual cases coma lasts between 2-4 weeks.


Symptoms of coma

The person appears to be in deep sleep. There’s no body movement except for sudden and unusual movements which are spontaneous but not induced by stimuli or on purpose.

There’s no communication or speech neither opening of eyes. Breathing could be normal or irregular.  


Causes of coma

There are several reasons that can affect brain function and push an individual to coma. The brain functions but at lowest pace which is why the patient appears unconscious.

  • Traumatic head injury like accidents and fall
  • Brain damage due to impaired oxygen supply to brain
  • Stroke and repetitive seizures
  • Infection in brain – meningitis, encephalitis
  • Overdose of chemicals, drugs and alcohol
  • Exposure or inhalation of toxins, poisons, etc.
  • Hemorrhage in brain and skull
  • Diabetes- hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia


When to see a doctor

Coma is a medical emergency. Thus, one needs to rush the patient immediately to hospital or call for emergency help.


Diagnosis of coma

The patient is unresponsive; therefore, doctors rely on the information provided on the person assisting him/her. The individual has to explain the events or circumstances that might have lead to coma and provide detailed information regarding the lifestyle, drug habits, medical history and other details of the patient.

Diagnosis involves examining the patient physically and measuring the depth of coma which technically done by evaluating eye opening, motor response and verbal response of the patient. For example: shouting out loud into the patient’s ears, splashing water on face, move the body, etc.

Other diagnostic tests like blood tests, CT scan, MRI of brain, EEG, blood glucose, etc. would be recommended depending upon the medical condition of the patient.


Treatment of coma

Treatment of coma will depend on its cause. Doctors first work towards stabilizing the person’s breathing and circulation. Blood transfusion, respiratory assistance, intravenous fluid therapy, etc. are some supportive care options given to coma patients.

Secondly, medical care – like medicines would be given to control swelling of the brain and relieve pressure. Surgery might be performed to control bleeding.

Once the person is stabilized, doctors work towards preventing further complications like bed sores, infections, etc.


Recovery from coma

Quite sadly, once a person seeps into coma whether and when he/she will recover completely is a question mark. Even if a person comes out of coma, it takes significant amount of time to get back to normal function which is again unpredictable.

If the individual is taken back home, then caregivers or family members are educated on how to take care of the patient and how to assess the patient with respect to verbal response, eye opening and responsive or voluntary movements. It’s important to note that sudden restlessness might be exhibited by the patient and therefore, family members or caregivers should know how to tackle the situation.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: October 14, 2014