A coma is a state of unconsciousness in which you look like you’re sleeping. If you’re in a coma, you don’t move much. You usually show no signs of pain or distress.
Some people who are in a coma move into another state of unconsciousness known as a vegetative state.
If you're in a vegetative state, you may open your eyes and look like you're awake. But you're actually unconscious because you don’t have any sensation or awareness. If you're in a vegetative state, you may make movements like yawning, smiling, or pulling back your arms or legs. Or, you may look like you’re watching something or responding to someone. These movements are reflexes. They’re not under your control.
According to expert medical opinion, a person who is in a coma or a vegetative state:
- Does not feel pain or any other sensations.
- Has no awareness of their surroundings.
- Cannot interact in any way with the world around them.
People who've come out of a coma or a vegetative state usually say that they don't have any memory or awareness of the time that they were unconscious. These people usually say that they don't remember any pain or discomfort.
If you were in a coma or a vegetative state, you'd probably be cared for in a hospital or nursing home. This is because other people would need provide all of your personal care, including:
- Feeding you through a tube.
- Cleaning up your body wastes.
- Turning you every few hours to prevent bedsores.
Some patients in a vegetative state are cared for at home by their loved ones.
It would be very hard to predict what would happen to you after you went into a coma.
- Some people wake up and recover completely.
- Other people never wake up.
- Other people come out of the coma but with permanent brain damage
In general, the longer you stay in a coma, the higher the chance that you won't come out of it. If you stay in a coma for a long time, you have a higher chance of severe brain damage.
If you stay in a vegetative state for a long time, experts refer to this as a permanent vegetative state. This occurs after:
- More than three months (when your vegetative state is caused by illness).
- More than a year (when your vegetative state is caused by injury). At that point, your chances of recovery are nearly zero.