The signs and symptoms of coma commonly include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Depressed brainstem reflexes, such as pupils not responding to light
  • No responses of limbs, except for reflex movements
  • No response to painful stimuli, except for reflex movements
  • Irregular breathing
Tests to diagnose: 

Specific tests that may be used to diagnose coma include:

  • Blood and urine tests to check for disease, metabolic disorders or toxins
  • Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans to look for bleeding in the brain, tumors, infection or stroke from decreased blood flow
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG), a graph of the electrical output of the brain, which may indicate a metabolic imbalance or persistent seizure activity. An EEG can also be helpful to determine whether there is any electrical activity in the brain. If there is no electrical activity on repeated EEGs and no reversible cause is found, the patient is brain dead and treatment is futile.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to examine the cerebrospinal fluid for signs of meningitis and encephalitis

Depending on the severity of the coma, the patient may require life-saving resuscitative measures. A procedure or medications to relieve pressure on the brain due to brain swelling may be needed. If the coma is the result of drug overdose, doctors will give medications to treat the condition. If the coma is due to seizures, doctors will give medications to control seizures. Sometimes, physical therapy is administered to prevent bone, joint, or muscle deformities.

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