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What is a Coma?
Washington, DC, Maryland & Virginia
A coma is simply defined as a state of unconsciousness from which a person cannot be awakened. A person in a coma cannot speak or perform voluntary actions, and they do not respond to any type of external stimulus. In essence, a comatose person is alive, but completely cut off from the world. More than 50% of comas are caused by traumatic brain injuries or circulatory disruptions in a patient’s brain.
Comas Caused by Brain Injury
Any traumatic brain injury has the potential to cause a coma. This is especially true if a concussion occurs. The comatose state is usually induced by damage to the reticular formation section of the brain – the area that helps you regulate your daily cycle of waking and sleeping.
Comas normally last anywhere from several days to a few weeks. Recovering from a coma can take time as the patient gradually regains their control of motor functions and communication skills. However, in certain rare cases, a patient may never wake up, or they may enter a permanent vegetative state.
The Vegetative State
When someone is in a vegetative state, they are awake but not aware of their surroundings. People usually emerge from a coma into a vegetative state as their brains start to slowly recover from a traumatic brain injury. For most patients, the vegetative state is temporary and will pass as they move into full consciousness, but this is not always the case. If brain damage is too severe, people can remain in a vegetative state for years, or even for the rest of their life.
A person in a vegetative state cannot:
- Purposefully engage with their surrounding environment
Properly diagnosing a vegetative state is extremely important. If misdiagnosis occurs, it can mean the difference between life and death. For example, it is essential to distinguish between a vegetative state and a condition called locked-in syndrome, in which a person is fully awake but unable to move. Patients with locked-in syndrome have a damaged brainstem, while patients in a vegetative state have a brainstem that is completely intact.
Tests can be performed to determine the level of damage a brain injury has inflicted, and a patient’s level of consciousness. However, these results can be unreliable and need to be carefully interpreted to ensure correct diagnosis and treatment.
If your loved one has suffered a brain injury that resulted in a coma, a vegetative state, or a minimally-conscious state, make sure that your loved one’s condition is correctly assessed, and that you hold the responsible parties accountable for negligence.Contact our experienced Maryland and Virginia brain injury lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. today for a free case evaluation.