Medically Induced Comas

05 February 2014
Posted by Hannah Critchlow.

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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