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A coma is a serious medical condition where the individual is unconscious and unable to respond to most stimuli. The individual is still alive and may appear to be sleeping. The brain may still be functioning but the brain is functioning at its lowest levels, which may include keeping the body breathing and the heart beating.
While in a coma, the patient requires regular monitoring, depending on the state of their coma. This may include the use of a ventilator to breathe, turning a patient to reduce the risk of pressure sores, cleaning the patient, and ensuring the patient gets proper nutrition.
There are a number of causes behind a person going into a coma, including traumatic injury, infection, brain injury, drug overdose, or other vascular injuries. In some cases, a person will be intentionally placed in a medically-induced coma to help them through a serious injury or surgical procedure.
What Causes Someone to Go Into a Coma?
A coma is an extended unconscious state. A coma may last for a few hours, a few days, or years. Even after years in a coma, it is possible for the person to suddenly wake up and regain full brain function. However, the longer a coma goes one, the more likely it is that the individual will suffer permanent injury, go into a vegetative state, or have brain death.
Comas are generally caused by injury to the brain. Injury to the brain can be caused by traumatic events, like a car accident, or non-traumatic events, like a serious infection. Trauma to the brain can damage brain cells, cause bleeding in the brain, or increased intracranial pressure through a build-up of fluids.
Non-traumatic injury to the brain can be caused by infection, swelling around the brain, lack of oxygen, or an imbalance of chemicals in the body. These can be caused by accidents, infections, drug overdose, dehydration, medical conditions, diseases, or congenital defects.
The severity of brain damage can be limited in some situations and there may even be some chance of recovery if the injury is treated quickly and appropriately. However, brain injury is often permanent, and can result in a coma. A coma can be temporary, a coma can carry on for years, or a coma could further degenerate to brain death.
An infection in the brain, spinal cord, or an infection that originates elsewhere and then travels to the brain can lead to a coma. Individuals with compromised immune systems or people who are having invasive surgery done in or around the brain or spinal cord may be more likely to suffer a serious infection. Infections generally involve bacteria, viruses, or fungus. If a serious infection is not treated or does not respond to treatment, it can lead to infection shock, brain injury, coma, and death.
Drug interactions or an overdose of over-the-counter, prescription, or illegal drugs can cause serious damage to the brain or vascular system, leading to a coma or death. Among the most common sources of overdose are opioids which inhibit the central nervous system. These include heroin, oxycontin, and Fentanyl. Too much of these drugs can decrease the rate of breathing and heart rate to the point of coma or death.
Dehydration and Chemical Imbalance
Most people do not think about the delicate chemical balance that is required for the body to operate properly. Diabetics understand the risk of imbalance when their blood sugar level or insulin levels are too high or too low. Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia can lead to a coma. In many cases, a diabetic coma can be reversed if the balance is restored in a timely manner.
Electrolytes are also in a delicate balance with fluids that need to be maintained before an individual suffers serious injury. Electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, calcium, and bicarbonate help the body transmit signals throughout the body. When these levels are too high or too low, it can throw the cellular balance off, leading to serious injuries, including seizure, heart attack, coma, and death. Electrolyte imbalance can be caused by loss of bodily fluids, certain medications, or kidney disease.
A stroke involves a blockage of blood or oxygen to the central nervous system. Without a supply of oxygenated blood, the area of the brain or spinal cord can begin to suffer cell damage. Some of the most common causes of a stroke that leads to brain infarction include a blood clot that travels to the brain or narrowing of the arteries and blockage by plaque. Individuals may be more prone to a blood clot stroke if they suffer deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or are sedentary. Blood clots may also be more common after surgery and patients are often placed on blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots.
Injury Accidents and Comas
A traumatic accident or injury that causes damage to the brain can leave the injury victim in a coma. Any blow to the head or cause of swelling in the brain can lead to brain damage and a coma, with some of the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) including:
- Car accidents;
- Violence or assault; and
- Sports injuries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBIs are a major cause of death and disability in the U.S. In 2014, there were about 2.87 million TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. Falls were the most common cause of TBI-related hospitalizations, accounting for more than half, followed by car accidents.
Fall injuries can involve workplace accidents, construction accidents, premises liability, stairway injuries, or even getting knocked over by an off-leash dog. When someone caused a fall injury, that person may be liable for the damage done. If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury after a fall or car accident, talk to your personal injury attorney for help to recover compensation for your losses.
Medically Induced Comas
A medically-induced coma is a medical procedure that shuts down the brain function under a controlled setting. A medically-induced coma is like general anesthesia, where chemicals are used to suppress the central nervous system. The patient is unconscious and unable to feel sensation while under the anesthesia. A medically-induced coma can give the brain time to heal after a traumatic event like a car accident, shock, or gunshot wound.
By inducing a state of unconsciousness, the brain has a reduced demand for blood, oxygen, and glucose. This may allow extra time for the brain to recuperate, with a reduced risk of secondary injury from swelling or oxygen deprivation. After a sufficient period, the patient can be returned to consciousness while monitored during emergence.
Coma Injury Attorneys
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate medical accidents to determine the cause of the injury and find out who is to blame. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to brain injuries and comatose patients. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.