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
    Telephone: 703-236-6000 or 800-444-6443
    Fax: 703-236-6001
  • Coma Recovery Association
    807 Carman Ave.
    Westbury, NY 11590
    Telephone: 516-997-1826
    Fax: 516-997-1613
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    P.O. Box 5801
    Bethesda, MD 20824
    Telephone: 800-352-9424

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