Unconsciousness is pretty much the key factor that relates to being in a coma, it essentially defines the state and signifies it to medical professionals. Senses shutdown and the body goes into a state similar to a very deep sleep; however, the difference is that it is impossible to wake a person once they get to this stage.
Lack of motor response
Motor responses are a core part of the process when it comes to living, moving, and thinking. When you are in a coma, though, one of the key things that happens to your body is that it doesn’t consciously move. There may still be the odd reflexive movements, but this is only if your coma is not too deep. Largely, you will remain entirely still.
Lack of eye response
Lack of eye response is, obviously, defined by medical professionals as your eyes staying closed, with no response at all when held open. Lack of activity here is something that plays a big part in determining whether or not you are in a coma and what the course of action may be from there. There might be slight movements if you aren’t in a deep coma, but this is incredibly uncommon.
Locked-in syndrome is a pretty terrifying condition that you might experience when in a coma. It is a condition whereby the person is conscious and cognitively alert, but cannot talk or move due to muscle paralysis. Unlike the standard definition of a coma, they are able to open their eyes and communicate via blinking.
Might be in a catatonic state
Someone in a catatonic state is often thought of a similar to being in a coma. Here, the person might appear to be conscious, but remain entirely unresponsive to external stimuli. This is slightly different to being in a full-blown coma, and it is something that can happen to a lot of people, for various physical or mental reasons. They may appear frozen, yet have their eyes open.
RAS could be damaged
According to scientists, the reason a lot of people are unresponsive to the outside world when they are in a coma is due to the fact that their brain’s reticular activating system (RAS) could be damaged. These are the nerves that sit at the stem of your brain and regulate your sleep and wake transitions.
You will rank on the Glasgow Coma Scale
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the most commonly used scale for figuring out how severe a coma is. This is determined by measuring the way your body may function and respond to different elements. Each response (or lack thereof) helps to place you within a score from 3 to 15, with 3 being the most severe, so medical professionals can give you the appropriate care.
You can’t feed yourself
Naturally, when you are in a coma you are not going to be capable of the things that you would normally be able to do. This means it is going to be up to other people to take care of you, and not being able to feed yourself means your body will be lacking energy and valuable nutrients in the long run.
Your body will still have some functions
The need to go to the toilet may still exist, even when you are in a coma, so you will still be peeing, but of course you won’t be able to deal with this yourself. That’s why coma patients will wind up with urinary catheters placed into their body in order to collect urine and help reduce mess and poor hygiene.
Muscle atrophy is not uncommon
Muscle atrophy is one of the most common things that can happen to your body when you are in a coma, and this can actually be damaging long term. It is a process in which your muscles lose their mass and begin to slowly waste away. This can happen over time as a result of long-term disuse, so it’s something you need to be aware of when recovering from any illness.
Blood clots are also not out of the question when you are in a coma, as your body is lying down and still for a long period of time. They are particularly common in the legs and can become highly problematic over time, and it’s important that the medical professionals try to take steps to counteract this where possible.
Tracheotomy might be necessary
If your coma is looking like it might be fairly long-lasting and it has run for more than two weeks, the decision might be made to give you breathing support. This will be conducted via the form of a tracheotomy, in order to help your body breathe on its own, even when you are in a comatose state.
You might get pressure injuries
Pressure injuries are perhaps more commonly known as bedsores, and are actually one of the most common and problematic conditions that can impact your body in the event of a coma. They occur due to lack of movement and damage caused by being consistently bedridden, which creates prolonged pressure on your skin, and can be painful and frustrating to heal.
Due to the fact that your body is going to need a catheter inserted in order to help collect urine, this is going to increase the risk of catheter-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs). These are incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable for the body, but they are a very real risk when you are in a coma. If left untreated, UTIs can develop into even nastier kidney infections.
You might be able to hear things
Whilst studies are inconclusive for this, and there is very little way of knowing if this will be the case for you, it is a possibility. Some people in comas can reportedly hear what is happening around them, but these instances vary a lot on a person to person basis. It is impossible to know or to be able to predict whether or not this will happen to someone, or if it’s even true!
One of the things that can happen to your body when you are in a coma is that you might slip into a vegetative state. This is where you are essentially awake, but you are unaware of the world around you, showing no intentional behaviors. A vegetative state can last a long time, known as a persistent vegetative state, which is difficult – or impossible – to cure.
Another form of being in a coma that can impact your body is that you might find yourself in a minimally conscious state. This is where you are able to show slight awareness of the world around you and follow simple commands, but are still close to being entirely unconscious. This isn’t something that occurs regularly, and often soon transitions in to a vegetative state.
Of course, death is the biggest potential complication from being in a coma, and your body and brain will simply switch off. Many people who wind up being in a coma will eventually pass away from it, but this is not always the case, and there are instances of people waking up from comas.
Automatic functions will continue
One of the most fascinating things about our body when you’re in a coma is that, despite the fact that you may have lost higher-order brain functions, your body will still automatically function in some ways. For instance, things like breathing, swallowing, and circulation can continue to occur on their own.
Laughing may occur
The body is a weird and wonderful thing! In fact, even when in a comatose state, your body might continue to react in strange or unusual ways. Whilst perhaps unlikely, one of the things that might occur is that you may randomly start laughing. It has been reported to have occurred to have happened in a number of coma patients, likely freaking out any nearby family members or staff.
All responses may stop
Something else to be aware of is that over time these reflexive responses from the body may actually diminish or even stop completely. This is just one of the quirks of a coma, and something that can happen with no real rhyme or reason, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Obviously, if you are in a coma, you are not going to be in a position to take care of yourself effectively, and this is why your body will receive IV injections. These are absolutely essential for helping with things like feeding, as well as hydration. This is key for giving the body what it needs moving forward.
You’ll get cold
When you are in a coma, and lying still, you are obviously not active, and this is going to mean you are unable to regulate your body temperature effectively. A result of this is that your body is likely to get cold, as you’re going to be lying still all the time. So it will be up to visitors and hospital staff to ensure you’re kept warm.
Your vagus nerve might be stimulated
Your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the bottom of the skull to the abdomen and connecting to key organs. Studies have found that stimulation of this nerve can result in coma patients being able to regain a degree of consciousness, so this is something doctors might try.
Though it is unclear exactly the position you may adopt if you find yourself in a coma, it has been common for people to adopt unusual postures. This is something that can happen randomly, and it can occur for a multitude of reasons. Unusual posture is not uncommon among coma patients, but medical professionals will ensure that they remain as safe as possible.
It doesn’t respond to pain
This is not to say that you can’t feel pain when you’re in a coma, because you can. It just means that part of the process of being in a coma is such that your body does not respond to pain stimuli, except in situations where it is reflex movement. This is one of the most fascinating things about being in a coma, highlighting an unusual disparity between feeling and response.
Again, much like in the case of laughing, it is true that some coma patients will actually start crying. Unlike conscious, emotional tears, this is actually an involuntary reaction, and a reflex that patients don’t even realize they’re doing. This is simply reflexive behavior and has no bearing on whether they might wake up or not.
Response to certain voices
In 2015, studies actually found evidence that the voices of loved ones and family members were found to sometimes improve responsiveness in people during a coma. It is unclear what this means for how the medical world will approach coma treatment in the future, but it’s fascinating.
Pneumonia is a risk
When you are in hospital, there is a risk of contracting all kinds of illnesses, especially when lying unconscious. However, one of the issues with a coma is that your body’s inability to deal with respiratory issues can result in you developing pneumonia, which can be very serious.
One of the other things that might happen to your body during a coma is that you may receive what’s called a lumbar puncture. This is also known as cerebral spinal fluid analysis, and involves inserting a needle into the spinal canal in order to measure pressure.
Irregular breathing is one of the hallmarks of a coma. This is something that is known to commonly occur for a number of different reasons and involves alternating patterns between deep and shallow breathing, often also involving brief pauses in breath. As well as identifying and fixing any underlying causes, doctors may consider fitting the patient with a breathing aid if this occurs.
Impaired wound healing
Another side-effect for your body when it comes to being in a coma is the issue of impaired wound healing. This is characterized by a delayed healing of injuries, as well as difficulties with healing from incisions during surgery – this is a key issue that is not easily solved and can harm the overall recovery process.
Disrupted circadian rhythm
Whilst some people view comas as a long, deep sleep, this is really not the case. Being in a coma, you may experience disrupted circadian rhythm, which can negatively impact the body and mind long term. Your sleep-wake cycle is significantly disrupted, and can often lead to disruption across the recovery process.
Swelling of the brain
Swelling of the brain is something that can happen for any number of reasons, and one of the biggest things that can cause this is a coma. If you are in a coma, your body might undergo a number of changes, including swelling of the brain, which can lead to numerous health conditions and concerns.
Possible reduced blood flow to extremities
When you are lying in a coma, and not moving, you could wind up having a lot of problems, such as reduced blood flow to the extremities. This could cause long-term issues, such as being able to use your extremities properly if you wake from your coma.
One of the biggest issues with being in a coma is that your body is not getting all of the nutrition it needs. In a comatose state, it becomes the responsibility of the medical professionals to ensure that the patient is getting sufficient minerals and nutrients needed to survive. Finding the correct nutritional balance for the patient’s needs is one of the vital aspects of care.
Compromised immune system
A compromised immune system is something that can seriously impact your body and cause long-term health difficulties across an individual’s lifespan, with the risk of infection only becoming more prominent when in a coma. This is something that the patient obviously cannot control, but medical professionals will have to keep a close eye on due to the increased risk it poses.
Gastrointestinal issues are unpleasant at the best of times, but they are even worse when you are in a coma and can do nothing about them. And these issues are a very real part of being in a coma, where you may find yourself experiencing digestive issues, and other gastrointestinal problems.
When you are in a coma, one of the biggest problems that can occur is the possibility of seizures. Generalized, bilaterally synchronous myoclonic twitches are a common element of coma patients, stemming from disruption to neural pathways. Monitoring these seizures is a crucial part of coma care, as they can complicate the condition and require prompt medical intervention.
Undergoing metabolic changes is one of the most common things you can expect when you are in a coma, and this is something that is going to impact your body when you potentially awaken. Things like weight loss and gain play a big role in this, as it’s a complete change to your activity levels and regular diet. It can have obvious, long-lasting impacts on your physical and mental health during the coma and beyond.