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What is a Coma?

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For example, a person with diabetes may suffer a diabetic coma from dangerously high ketones building up in the bloodstream. Ketones are a type of acid that helps metabolize fats rather than sugars for energy.

Myxedema coma is a relatively rare, but life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism seen most frequently in the elderly and in female patients. It occurs from a long-lasting episode of very low thyroid hormone levels in the blood.

Comas rarely last more than two to four weeks, but some people can remain in a persistent vegetative state for years — even decades. Recovery usually occurs gradually, with some acquiring more and more ability to respond.

The outcomes for coma and persistent vegetative state however, depend on the cause, severity and site of neurological damage. Some individuals never progress beyond the most basic responses, while others recover full awareness.

The Glasgow Coma Scale is a tool used by medical professionals to objectively determine the degree to which a person is comatose or conscious. The tool is based on a 15-point scale with higher scores indicating higher levels of consciousness. It is not unusual for the scale to be used multiple times during a patient’s comatose or persistent vegetative state.

Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two canine kids. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.


The American Diabetes Association. has more information about diabetic coma and living with diabetes. Web 7 Sept. 2011. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes

American Association of Anesthesiologists. Induced Coma vs. Sedation. Web 7 Sept. 2011.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Coma Information Page has more information on coma treatments, outcomes and research. Web 7 Sept. 2011.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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