John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
A coma is a deep state of unconsciousness in which
individuals do not consciously respond to stimuli in their environment. Coma can
result from injury such as head trauma, or an underlying illness such as an
infection or tumor, or
toxins that enter the body.
Patients in a coma are unable to think consciously and lack awareness of
their surroundings, but they do retain basic life support functions, such as
breathing and circulation. A person in a coma may look healthy and appear as if
they are sleeping, but they are unable to respond to people and things around
them. A patient in a coma may exhibit some movement such as eye opening or
grimacing in response to the environment; however, the patient does not have
control or awareness of these movements.
A long-term coma is often referred to as a persistent vegetative state. This
can last for years, depending on the medical circumstances and the cause.
In general, a coma is temporary, rarely lasting more than two to four weeks.
After emerging from a coma, the prognosis is varied.
Many people can recover fully, some require lifelong physical and occupational
therapy, while others may
recover only basic functions.
It is important to remember that a head injury can have different symptoms and signs, ranging from a patient experiencing no initial symptoms to coma.
A high index of suspicion that a head injury may exist is important, depending upon the mechanism of injury and the initial symptoms displayed by the patient. Being unconscious, even for a short period of time is not normal. Prolonged confusion, seizures, and multiple episodes of vomiting should be signs that prompt medical attention is needed.