Coma and Persistent Vegetative State

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Coma and Persistent Vegetative State

What is Coma and Persistent Vegetative State?

A coma is a profound or deep state of unconsciousness. 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. A persistent vegetative state (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain death") sometimes follows a coma. 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. They 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 NINDS supports and conducts research on neurological conditions such as coma and persistent vegetative state. This research is aimed at finding ways to prevent, treat, and cure these conditions.

Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.


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Posted on BrainLine March 11, 2009.

From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institutes of Health.

Comments (26)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

My mom has 4 open heart surgeries in 3 days due to complications in her 1st surgery it took 12 hours and her heart stopped 10 mins. Due to lack of oxygen to brain she falls in vegetative state. My mom was super healthy and aged 64years. Our life turned black and white. I believe in Miracles and what ever God will is. I can’t see my mom going through with such painful procedure and life.

I found my mother on July 31st. She was struggling to breath. Once we arrived to the hospital they did multiple test. A MRI revealed that she had multiple strokes throughout all four lobes of her brain. The Neurologist barely wanted to tell me that she was in a coma, she just stated that she reacted to pain and she wasn’t following commands. I agreed to a trach and peg. She was transferred to acute care that specializes in stroke patients. This has been extremely hard. I pray she wakes up.

Did she wake up?

Hi my father experienced this same situation. May I ask how is your mom now?

I agree it is very hard my mother is in the same state and I just want her to wake up. It hurts to see her like this. I hope you are doing okay. Has your mother waken up yet ?

My sister has suffered TBI with bleeding to the brain. She has been in a coma/vegetative state for 2 weeks now, Im wondering if anyone knows of any scholarship websites or grants that could help my sister get proper medical care?

I would suggest coming together as a family and doing it your self. Aside from the frequent hospital visits for pneumonia and bed sores. The work can and should be done as a family. Nursing homes will never give her the care that a family would give. You also know your sister best and understand her wishes to live in this state.

My sister has been in coma to vegetative state for two months now and doctors alhad decided she can no longer live the way she was before.she has global diffused brain damage and is now under comfort care with withdrawal of all life support(food water oxygen)but still hanging on for 22 days after all these withdrawals..makes me wonder now if we are doing the right thing as she seems to be hanging on,and still wants to you think we shoudl reverse the care plan?

I think you should my ex husband the father of my 3 sons has been in vegetable state for 8 months his mother refuses to put him on comfort care we are praying for a miracle we don't know how long he went without oxygen I wish someone would say yes he can still come out

I have a friend who has been in a PVS for over 2 years now. I have been constantly racking my brain whether or not she is there. It weighs on me everyday. Has anyone had luck with any clinical studies? Or anyone hear how Zolpidem might be proven to wake them?
I found this link:

Does anyone know of actual success? Much Prayers and Love to you all. This is testing who you are as family. Stay strong..

We received news today that my mom is in a PVS, she has been in a coma for 40 days after bleeding on the brain. Doctor suggest nature takes its cause. So many people have constantly prayed. She looks lost. Anybody have any stories of hope or miracles?

Mu husband had a heart attack a year ago. He was with no oxygen for 20 minutes before he was rushed to the ER. 5 doctors told me to disconnect, the head nurse described to me how he would die slowly. They told me I was being selfish. His family came against me, I lost my home, my younger son is not doing good in dealing with this. No nursing home wanted him because he would get very agitated, and no one trusted me to bring him home. A year later he is walking, eating solid foods, showering on his own, goes to the bathroom by himself, loves watching comedies, and the next challenge is speech therapy. He was in a vegetative state. He is a pastor so we take him to church and he prays fir people. God has given us promises and nothing will stop his promises from coming true in his life. Its hard, I cry everyday because I miss who he was, but I refuse to give up. Only you know your loved ones, only you know what they want and how much they may love life. Its not over until you and I give up on them.

Wow, that's what I'm going through rt now... Except he an I aren't married... But he's always had health issues since birth... He's been in the Direct Observation Unit for 10 days now... He also had a heart attack an they say he was without oxygen to the brain for 25 min but not a whole 25 because they were working on him, so between his heart stopping an restarting their was oxygen... So not sure how they calculate the time accurately.... And the women in his family have turned on me, pulling dirty tricks to make things harder for me to be here for him. His mother was supportive of me the very first night, an somewhere along the next day she had taken me off the emergency contact for him an I couldn't get in to see him an I couldn't call to get updates on him, I was hurt, angry, an frustrated. Until this day non of the women have said more than 4 words to me... But you are right about knowing your loved one an what they want an need to recover... I've been the only one with him day in an day out next month will make 7 years.... Non of these women ever bothered to come see about his well being unless they jus so happened to be in the neighborhood. Other wise it was always jus us... He's my best friend. I'm so lost without him... But I'm not willing to give up on him, nor an I willing to be brow beaten by some miserable gossips with no lives that they have to insert themselves into ours. These individuals know exactly how he feels about each n everyone of them. Lemme jus say that they aren't going to like the outcome when he wakes up an I'm not there... I'll be in the parking lot tho.... Lol

OMG.. thanks for sharing your husband story, you give me more hope now..
I'm in the hospital now with my 25 yrs old son he is still in coma for 7 weeks and I'm very sad and hopeless...

No God has the final say whether someone lives or dies. My 18yr old son has a diffusal axonal brain injury. They said he would be in a vegetative state. He's been in rehab for 6mos and he now talks, eats solid food, drinks thin liquids, can play games etc. He's not walking yet but I'm trusting God that he will

Thanks for sharing this.. I am crying because I know GOD is able to do anything. My daughter is in a PVS she is 32 with TBI after loosing oxygen for a short period of time. She has damage on both side unable to communicate. I am not going to give up on her not now after reading this

My son has a suffered a cardiac arrest he was without oxygen for 30 min. He has been awake but not awake for days . The doctors said he has severe brain damage, not sure if he hears me or not . We spend our days flailing our body parts,he is breathing on his own. Afraid he will be like this forever.

Don’t give up ... my mother was fighting for her life and doctors and medic team told me she wouldn’t survive after being unplug from machine, she was brain dead they said I refused to believe it but after her body was deteriorating I said unplug her from machine but remind you they told me she was brain dead and would pass in seconds nope she kept fighting and she couldn’t open her eyes but as she would hear me and my sisters talk about old memories tears would fall from her eyes and she she kept fighting after a day and a half her oxygen was slowing down than eventually her heart stopped but I feel like if I kept her on the machine a week longer she may have still been here , point is doctors try to pin point things when they are not GOD ..

My husband is in pvs but only responds to me and close relatives. He's 51.  It's been close to 30 days already. He had a cardiac arrest, prior to a surgery. I also believe in miracles. Is there any hope he will wakeup from this coma?

My mother who is aged about 68 yrs has malignant brain tumor admitted in hospital for the last 10 days there is no sign of improvement and her condition has worsened by going in vegetative state for last 7days Dr has advised to take her back to home as there is no chance of recovery even surgeon refused to operate under such conditions I'm hopeless is there any chance of recovery?

My husband remained in PVS for almost 8 years followed to a sudden cardiac arrest, I believe in miracles and things happened for a reason. Our love stays forever just as the day when we made our vows.

I really hope you find some peace. My Brother in law has had a severe stroke and my sister has been told he will now be moved from ITU to the stroke ward and be kept comfortable she has been told he will not recover. Thinking about you and sending golden vibes xxx

miracles happen

My brother due to lack of oxygen (severe asthma attack- 20 plus minutes without oxygen) had several brain damage and based on neurologist report recovery is not possible. If awareness will not come back he would not have wanted to go on

I have a brother Who has been diagnosis as a persistent vegetative state for six weeks. The doctors are now telling me he can't. Hear me do this type of illness lose their hearing?

I would speak to him and tell him you love him very much. That’s what I told my daughter she died seconds later. I think she was wanting to hear my voice before she died. Stayed with her the whole time when she was in the hospital. We lived 31/2 hours away. We arrived she was brain dead and no sign of life. When I see her in Heaven I will ask her if she heard me I would like to think she did because she died seconds later. She was 43. Death 2-25-2018