What's the prognosis of coma?
Some conditions that cause coma can be completely reversed, restoring the individual to his or her original level of functioning. However, if areas of the brain have been sufficiently damaged due to the severity or duration of the condition which led to the coma, the individual may recover from the coma with permanent disabilities, or may even never regain consciousness. Take, for example, the situation of someone whose coma was caused by brain injury in a car accident. Such an injury can result in one of three outcomes. In the event of a less severe brain injury, with minimal swelling, an individual may indeed recover consciousness and regain all of his or her original abilities. In the event of a more severe brain injury, with swelling which resulted in further pressure on areas of the brain, an individual may regain consciousness, but may have some degree of impairment. The impairment may be physical (such as paralysis of a leg) or may even result in a change in the individual's intellectual functioning and/or personality. The most severe types of brain injury, short of death, result in states in which the individual loses all ability to function and remains deeply unresponsive. An individual who has suffered such a severe brain injury may remain in a coma indefinitely. This condition is termed persistent vegetative state.
Outcome from a coma is therefore quite variable and depends a great deal on the cause and duration of the coma. In the case of drug poisonings, extremely high rates of recovery can be expected following prompt medical attention. Patients who have suffered head injuries tend to do better than do patients whose coma was caused by other types of medical illnesses. Leaving out those people whose coma followed drug poisoning, only about 15% of patients who remain in a coma for more than just a few hours make a good recovery. Those adult patients who remain in a coma for greater than four weeks have almost no chance of eventually regaining their previous level of functioning. On the other hand, children and young adults have regained functioning after even two months in a coma.
A coma rarely lasts more than 2 to 4 weeks. Some patients who have gone into vegetative state may go on to regain a degree of awareness. Others may remain in a vegetative state for years or even decades. The most common cause of death for a person in a vegetative state is infection such as pneumonia.