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What is a state of altered consciousness?

There are many potential complications of traumatic brain injury, with a state of altered consciousness being one of the most concerning. Altered consciousness is nothing more than a change in a person's consciousness, responsiveness, or awareness. While this is simple to define, it can be extremely difficult to treat.

Furthermore, there are many states of altered consciousness, including:

-- Coma. When a person is in a coma, he or she is unaware of what is going on. Also, the person is not able to respond to any stimulus.

-- Vegetative state. When widespread brain damage occurs, this can be the end result. Even though people are unaware of their surroundings, they may be able to make sounds, open their eyes, and even respond to reflexes.

-- Minimally conscious state. A severe state of altered consciousness in which a person has some sense of self-awareness. In many cases, this acts as a transitional state from a coma to some level of recovery.

Other types of altered consciousness include locked in syndrome and brain death.

Regardless of what type of altered consciousness a person is dealing with, it is a serious problem that requires the appropriate type of treatment.

Just because somebody suffers a brain injury, such as in a motor vehicle accident, doesn't mean they will fall into one of these altered states of consciousness. But there is always the chance this could happen. If a loved one has suffered a brain injury, make sure you understand how it happened, his or her current state of consciousness, and the prognosis for recovery.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Complications," accessed Feb. 17, 2016

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