Coma

What is a coma?

A coma is a deep state of unconsciousness. A person in a coma is alive but can’t wake up. Someone in a coma is not able to respond in an appropriate way to what is around him or her.

 

What is a persistent vegetative state?

Sometimes, following a coma, a person may enter what is known as a persistent vegetative state. The patient is able to breathe and may appear awake. People in this state may open their eyes, but not recognize things they see. They may move parts of their body, but with little purpose. People in a coma or vegetative state may do some of these things:

  • Open their eyes
  • Move about in bed
  • Grasp your hand when you hold their hand
  • Laugh, cry, or moan

 People in this state are not able to speak or respond to commands.

What causes a coma?

Special parts of the brain control a person’s ability to wake up or respond. A coma may be caused by:

  • Head injury
  • Trauma
  • Brain tumor
  • Drug or alcohol overdose

How long does a coma last?

It is difficult to predict how long someone will be in a coma. A coma rarely lasts more than 2 to 4 weeks. But a persistent vegetative state may last for years. Some people may never wake up from a coma. A person may wake from a coma with physical, intellectual, or emotional problems. Some never regain more than basic responses. However, many recover full awareness. If the injury is severe, it may affect the person’s recovery. A person does not suddenly wake up from a coma. It is a gradual process. Every person recovers at a different rate.

 

What special care does a patient in a coma need?

Once the patient is out of danger, although still in a coma, the doctors and nurses will concentrate on keeping the patient healthy. They will work to prevent illness, such as pneumonia, infection, or bed sores. They will make sure the patient receives the right food and proper nutrition. Physical therapists will move the patient’s arms and legs to keep the muscles working properly. This will help the patient recover more quickly after he or she wakes up from the coma.

Useful resources

  • Brain Injury Association
    105 N. Alfred St.
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    E-mail: publicrelations@biausa.org
    Website: www.biausa.org
    Telephone: 703-236-6000 or 800-444-6443
    Fax: 703-236-6001
  • Coma Recovery Association
    807 Carman Ave.
    Westbury, NY 11590
    E-mail: office@comarecovery.org
    Website: www.comarecovery.org
    Telephone: 516-997-1826
    Fax: 516-997-1613
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    P.O. Box 5801
    Bethesda, MD 20824
    Website: www.ninds.nih.gov
    Telephone: 800-352-9424

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com