What is a coma?

Lots of people aren’t sure what a coma is, or what characterizes it. Important to the definition of a coma is that it is a condition noted by deep unconsciousness. When comatose, patients cannot be awakened or make voluntary movements. These patients also lack the ability to respond or interact with their environments and those around them, and they do not experience cycles of sleep and wakefulness.

What causes a coma? 

Now that we’ve gone over the definition of a coma and what a coma is, what causes it? Comas can be caused by a variety of factors, conditions and injuries, including cases of medical malpractice in Ohio. Comas may also be induced intentionally by medical professionals. Family members of comatose patients may consult attorneys if they suspect medical negligence caused the coma so they may discuss whether a case of medical malpractice in Ohio may be warranted.

Possible causes for a coma include: 

  • drug overdoses;
  • brain hemorrhage;
  • oxygen deprivation in the brain;
  • diseases in the central nervous system;
  • head or brain trauma;
  • diabetes or extremely low/high blood sugar;
  • infections in the brain, spinal cord or surrounding tissues;
  • tumors; and
  • swelling in the brain.

In general, comas last no longer than four weeks. After this point, patients may be classified as vegetative. In a vegetative state, the patient may be physically awake, but still unaware of surroundings.

Diagnosis and Symptoms of a Coma 

To diagnose a coma, medical professionals typically use the Glasgow Coma Scale, a points-style scoring system that allows doctors to assess a patient’s condition and level of consciousness.

The Glasgow Coma Scale factors in a patient’s: 

  • motor abilities;
  • verbal abilities; and
  • ability to open his or her eyes and assigns points to each one, depending on the response observed.

In total, a patient can get anywhere from three to 15 points, with three being the most severe coma, and 15 indicating only minor injury. In a 2009 observational study appearing in the Journal of Medicine, of the 122 acute stroke patients included in the study, those who were given a score between three and eight on the GCS saw a 12 percent fatality rate; those with a score of 13 to 15 had zero fatalities.

Patients who are assessed and officially diagnosed as comatose will exhibit a number of different symptoms. Depending on the underlying cause of the coma, these often vary in severity and duration. Per the definition of a coma and knowing what a coma is, people in a coma typically: 

  • will have consistently closed eyes, as if sleeping;
  • are unable to move, save for reflexes;
  • will not respond to pain, pleasure or other stimuli; and
  • are unable to speak or respond to speech.

The chances of recovery from a coma depend on the type of injury or damage that caused the comatose condition, and the severity of that damage. Not all patients will recover and, in many cases, even those who do may experience lifelong problems pertaining to physical or cognitive abilities.

Comas from Medical Malpractice in Ohio 

Family members who believe their loved ones became comatose because of medical error or medical malpractice in Ohio may speak to an attorney in Cleveland today. They could be due compensation and have grounds for a legal claim. Knowing the definition of a coma and what a coma is may help families struggling to find answers after a loved one is injured.