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Disease: Coma Coma
Category: Neurological diseases
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Disease Definition:

A coma is a state of lengthy unconsciousness that can be caused by a wide range of problems, traumatic head injury, brain tumor, stroke, or even an underlying disease, like an infection or diabetes. A coma is a medical emergency. Swift action is required to keep life and brain functioning. Doctors commonly order a battery of blood tests and brain scans to try determining the cause of coma so that proper treatment could start.

Comas rarely last for more than a few weeks. People who are unconscious for longer than that are often reclassified as being in a persistent vegetative state. People who are in a persistent vegetative state for more than a year are extremely unlikely to awaken.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Coma’s signs and symptoms typically include:


  • No responses of limbs except for reflex movements


  • No response to painful stimuli, except for reflex movements


  • Closed eyes


Several types of problems could result in a coma, such as:


  • Stroke. Acute loss of blood flow to the brain followed by swelling or no blood flow to a major portion of the brainstem could cause a coma.
  • Diabetes. Blood sugar levels that get too high (hyperglycemia) and stay too high or get too low (hypoglycemia) and remain too low could result in coma.
  • Traumatic brain injuries. Brain injuries that are caused by traffic collisions or acts of violence are the most common cause of comas
  • Infections. Encephalitis and meningitis are infections that result in inflammation of the brain, spinal cord or the tissues that surround the brain. Severe cases of either encephalitis or meningitis could cause a coma.
  • Toxins. Exposure to toxins, like carbon monoxide or overdose of medication, could result in brain damage and coma.
  • Lack of oxygen. People who have escaped drowning or been resuscitated after a heart attack might not awaken because of lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.



A coma often lasts only a few days or weeks. While several people gradually recover, others either enter a vegetative state or die.

Bladder infections, pneumonia and pressure sores are complications that might come up during coma.


A coma is a medical emergency, and attention primarily is given to maintaining respiration and circulation. Assistance with breathing, administration of fluids and blood, and other supportive care might be required.

 Emergency personnel might administer glucose or antibiotics intravenously, even before blood test results come back, on the chance that the patient is in diabetic shock or has an infection affecting the brain.

Depending on the cause of the coma, treatment differs. Occasionally, surgery is required to relieve the pressure because of brain swelling. Other treatments might concentrate on addressing an underlying disease, like liver disease, kidney failure or diabetes.

The cause of a coma can sometimes be completely reversed, and the patient will regain normal function. But when the brain damage is severe, they might sustain permanent disabilities or might never regain consciousness.


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