Understanding Severe Brain Injury and Comas

A coma is a prolonged unconscious state in which the patient cannot be awakened. A patient in a coma cannot initiate voluntary activity, and can only respond minimally, at best, to stimuli.


While it is a serious condition, a coma isn’t necessarily all bad. In fact, doctors sometimes even induce a coma to help with a patient’s healing. A coma can be part of the natural recovery process for a brain injury patient.

The hardest part of a coma is, of course, for the loved ones watching for signs of improvement. They may become anxious for the patient to wake up and frustrated with the doctor for what seems to be a slow recovery.

6 Things You Should Know

If you find yourself in a situation like this — waiting anxiously by the side of a loved one, or frustrated with your physician for not giving you signs of hope — here are a few things to remember:

  1. There isn’t a “usual amount of time” for a coma. We can’t predict whether it will last days, months or indefinitely.
  2. While physicians can induce a coma, there is no treatment that will bring someone out of a coma.
  3. Physicians may not be able to state what a brain injury patient will be like when they come out of the coma.
  4. Physicians should, however, be able to give clear cut reasons for why a brain injury patient remains in a coma. If no reason is being given, the patient’s loved ones ought to demand a good evaluation. While the evaluation won’t be able to answer the questions of “How long?” and “What will the the results be?,” it can differentiate between someone who is truly not responding and someone who is responding in some manner that has not been detected.
  5. While a person in a coma might respond to some stimuli, or even open their eyes, it does not necessarily mean that they are “waking up.” For example, brain injury patients may be in a Vegetative State (VS), where they might move, or spontaneously open their eyes, but cannot interact with people or their environment.
  6. While a person in a coma might not respond noticeably to stimuli, it does not mean that their brain cannot register your words and presence. It is a very good thing for loved ones to talk to the patient in their regular tone of voice, with the assumption that the patient can understand what they are saying. Some people who have emerged from a coma can repeat conversations they “overheard” in the room while they were in the coma.

There is a lot more to learn about comas, what they mean and how the various terms and tools of the hospital room are being used to help treat your loved one.

We at the Brain Injury Law Center understand how hard it can be to wait for your loved one’s recovery, especially when it’s difficult to understand what’s happening to him or her. That’s why we’ve put together a form that will help you understand the kind of coma that your loved one is in, what it means about their condition and prospects for recovery. It also includes an explanation of certain terms and medical devices that commonly surround a patient in a coma.

You can also visit our Coma FAQs page to learn more.

Get Help

Understanding the nature of a patient’s coma is vital to understanding what sort of brain trauma they suffered. This in turn is essential to knowing what rights and resources a patient deserves, in compensation for a brain trauma inflicted because of negligence or other wrongdoing.

Please contact the Brain Injury Law Center for a FREE case evaluation with a caring and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer who can help you understand your legal rights and options.

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