Clinical Services

Coma Overview

Treatment in Leesburg & Dulles, VA

A coma is defined as a state of unconsciousness that lasts for an indefinite period of time. When a person is in a coma, they cannot be awakened by external stimuli, including pain. Depending on the type of coma, a person may be semi-conscious, completely unconscious, or permanently unconscious.

What Causes Comas?

Entering a comatose state is uncommon and caused by brain trauma. Comas are usually side effects of:

  • Blunt trauma: When the brain swells, causing certain parts of the RAS (reticular activating system) to shut down, this can cause a person to enter a comatose state.
  • Strokes: When the blood flow is cut off to the brain, it damages the brain stem, and could cause a person to enter a comatose state.
  • Oxygen Deprivation: When people are suffocated and resuscitated, they may not wake up. Instead, they will enter a comatose state.
  • Dangerous Infections: Infections such as meningitis can potentially cause brain swelling that will cause one to go into a coma.

Different Categories of Comas

While the term “coma” is widely known, very few people understand that there are different types of comas. They are typically categorized in six ways:

Toxic-Metabolic Encephalopathy

When the kidneys or other organs fail, the body fails to dispose of any toxins correctly. This toxic level of substance can cause brain function to be disrupted and send an individual into a coma.

Cerebral Hypoxia

When there’s an injury to the brain because of a lack of oxygen, the brain experiences cell death. Usually, this is caused by electric shock, drowning, respiratory/cardiac arrest, drug use/poisoning, or suffocation. When someone experiences cerebral hypoxia, or anoxic brain damage, they will usually lose consciousness immediately, and an ambulance should be called. Sometimes, the person who suffered a cerebral hypoxia will wake up before professional help arrives, but they may have hallucinations, coordination problems, or memory loss.

Persistent Vegetative State (PVS)

A person may be awake, but they are not capable of voluntary movement or proper brain function. For example, they may be able to have sleep cycles, breathe, and their blood will circulate, but they won’t be able to think, move, speak, etc.

Locked-In Syndrome

While rare, Locked-In Syndrome means a person can move only their eye muscles, but has mostly normal brain function.

Brain Death

Brain death, as the name suggests, is the ending of all function in the brain.

Medically Induced Coma

When a person’s brain swelling needs to be controlled, they may be put into a medically induced coma in an ICU to prevent the injured brain from dying.

Recovering from a Coma

Recovering from a coma isn’t always possible - each case is completely different. The brain is an incredibly complicated organ, thus, it is difficult to predict when, or if, someone will awaken from a coma. However, while in a coma, the patient will be looked after in an intensive care unit, and sometimes will require full life support until the situation improves.