HealthONE - September 06, 2018

You’ve probably wondered what exactly happens when someone is in a coma. Some people might think that a person in a coma is merely in a deep sleep. In fact, a coma is a serious health issue that isn’t related to sleep at all. Here are some important things to know about being in a coma:

  1. A person in a coma is unconscious, not sleeping
    Someone who is in a coma is unconscious and won’t respond to voices, other sounds or any type of activity happening around them. A person in a coma is still alive, but the the brain is functioning at its lowest stage of alertness. You can’t “wake up” someone up from a coma by shaking them or shouting their name loudly, like you can with a person who has fallen asleep.
  1. A coma can be caused by different things
    Cause of a coma include: a severe injury to the head or the brain, seizures, infections involving the brain, brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen, a stroke, a chemical imbalance, or a drug overdose. In each of these cases, a person’s brain cells might be affected, which could make someone unconscious.
  1. Someone in a coma needs serious medical attention
    When a person is in a coma, they usually need to be cared for at a hospital in the intensive care unit (ICU). A team of doctors, nurses and medical staff make sure that the person in the coma gets the fluids, nutrients and medications they need to keep the body as healthy as possible. Someone in a coma often needs a feeding tube and some patients are unable to breathe on their own. In these cases, the patient needs a ventilator to keep breathing.
  1. If a loved one is in a coma, families and friends aren’t powerless
    For those who have a loved one in a coma, it’s normal to feel frustrated, upset, scared or helpless. However, families and friends can help take care of their loved one while they are in the hospital. It’s important to visit with the person in the coma, talk to them, read to them and play their favorite music. It’s possible that someone in a coma might be able to hear what’s going on, even if they seem unresponsive.
  1. Most people do come out of a coma
    Generally, most patients at a hospital do come out of a coma. Typically, a coma does not last more than a few days or couple of weeks. In some rare cases, a person might stay in a coma for several weeks, months or even years.

    Depending on what caused the person to go into a coma, some patients are able to return to their normal lives after leaving the hospital. Unlike what you might see on TV, a person coming out of a coma will probably be confused and respond slowly, often needing time to recover.

    In some instances, a person who comes out of a coma can remember what happened to them and are able to resume their normal activities. In other cases, a coma patient might need therapy to re-learn basic tasks and functions, like tying their shoes, eating with a fork and learning how to walk again. It is possible for people who have been in a coma to make progress and improve their quality of life.