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NINDS Coma Information Page

Synonym(s):   Persistent Vegetative State

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What is Coma?

A coma, sometimes also called persistent vegetative state, is a profound or deep state of unconsciousness. Persistent vegetative state is not brain-death. An individual in a state of coma is alive but unable to move or respond to his or her environment. Coma may occur as a complication of an underlying illness, or as a result of injuries, such as head trauma. . Individuals in such a state have lost their thinking abilities and awareness of their surroundings, but retain non-cognitive function and normal sleep patterns. Even though those in a persistent vegetative state lose their higher brain functions, other key functions such as breathing and circulation remain relatively intact. Spontaneous movements may occur, and the eyes may open in response to external stimuli. Individuals may even occasionally grimace, cry, or laugh. Although individuals in a persistent vegetative state may appear somewhat normal, they do not speak and they are unable to respond to commands.

Is there any treatment?

Once an individual is out of immediate danger, the medical care team focuses on preventing infections and maintaining a healthy physical state. This will often include preventing pneumonia and bedsores and providing balanced nutrition. Physical therapy may also be used to prevent contractures (permanent muscular contractions) and deformities of the bones, joints, and muscles that would limit recovery for those who emerge from coma.

What is the prognosis?

The outcome for coma and persistent vegetative state depends on the cause, severity, and site of neurological damage. Individuals may emerge from coma with a combination of physical, intellectual, and psychological difficulties that need special attention. Recovery usually occurs gradually, with some acquiring more and more ability to respond. Some individuals never progress beyond very basic responses, but many recover full awareness. Individuals recovering from coma require close medical supervision. A coma rarely lasts more than 2 to 4 weeks. Some patients may regain a degree of awareness after persistent vegetative state. Others may remain in that state for years or even decades. The most common cause of death for someone in a persistent vegetative state is infection, such as pneumonia.

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct research related to coma in their laboratories at the NIH and also support additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Much of this research focuses on finding better ways to prevent and treat coma.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Coma Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
Coma/Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Association, Inc
8300 Republic Airport
Suite 106
Farmingdale, NY   11735
inquiry@comarecovery.org
Tel: 631-756-1826
Fax: 631-756-1827

Brain Trauma Foundation
7 World Trade Center 250 Greenwich Street
34th Floor
New York, NY   10017
education@braintrauma.org
http://www.braintrauma.org
Tel: 212-772-0608
Fax: 212-772-0357

Brain Injury Association of America, Inc.
1608 Spring Hill Rd
Suite 110
Vienna, VA   22182
braininjuryinfo@biausa.org
http://www.biausa.org
Tel: 703-761-0750 800-444-6443
Fax: 703-761-0755

Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving
785 Market St.
Suite 750
San Francisco, CA   94103
info@caregiver.org
http://www.caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
8201 Corporate Drive
Suite 600
Landover, MD   20785
naricinfo@heitechservices.com
http://www.naric.com
Tel: 301-459-5900/301-459-5984 (TTY) 800-346-2742
Fax: 301-562-2401

National Stroke Association
9707 East Easter Lane
Suite B
Centennial, CO   80112-3747
info@stroke.org
http://www.stroke.org
Tel: 303-649-9299 800-STROKES (787-6537)
Fax: 303-649-1328

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Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated February 14, 2014