Science News

Medically Induced Comas

Wed, 5th Feb 2014

Hannah Critchlow, Kate Lamble

Part of the shows Medically Induced Comas and Green Food

This week doctors are trying to bring Formula One racing star Michael Schumacher Intravenous Dripout of a coma which was medically induced following a skiing accident.

To find out more about why medically induced comas are thought to help people with brain injuries Here’s your Quickfire Science with Kate Lamble and Hannah Critchlow…

- A coma is a state of unconsciousness when a person is unresponsive and cannot be woken.

- Comas can be caused by a drug overdose, head injury or purposefully induced by doctors to aid in recovery from trauma 

- After an injury, brain tissue swells, which can restrict the flow of blood through the brain, worsening the damage.

- Inducing a coma reduces the amount of energy that the brain requires, and so protects the areas at risk of low oxygen from hypoxia.

- Brain swelling is also tackled by cooling, which reduces the brain's requirement for oxygen

- Alternatively patients can undergo an operation to remove a section of bone from the skull; this allows the brain to swell without compressing and potentially damaging other areas.

- Patient responsiveness in comas can vary - in very deep comas - such as those that are medically induced - a patient may be unresponsive to pain. But less-sedated patients may be able to hear conversation.

- Unlike in the movies, waking up from a coma is usually agradual process. In medically induced comas, cooling is reduced by about 0.25C every hour, to avoid the brain swelling.

- When the patient is able to make a conscious response to instructions, they are no longer classed as being in a coma.

- However, any damage to the brain sustained through a traumatic brain injury is often not apparent until the patient has woken from the coma

- Schumacher's family will have to wait until the anaesthetic stops being administered to see what the long term impact of his head injury will be.

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