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What Are a Persistent Vegetative State and a Coma?


Severe brain injuries can often affect the way a person interacts with the world around him or her. When the person’s injury is severe, the person might suffer from a persistent vegetative state or a coma. While some people use these terms interchangeably, they are actually two different states.

What Is a Persistent Vegetative State?

persistent vegetative state is one in which the person is considered brain dead. The person isn’t able to think or speak but some level of function still exists. The functions that remain are non-cognitive functions, such as sleep patterns, spontaneous movements, breathing or circulation. Individuals in this state won’t respond to commands but might appear normal. It is possible for a person to remain in this state for years or decades, but some people might come out of the state with some degree of awareness.

What Is a Coma?

A person who is in a coma is unconscious. The person is still alive but can’t react to their surroundings. They won’t wake up or move. A coma is usually a short-term event that lasts up to two to four weeks, but it is possible that it will last a shorter period of time. The level of recovery a patient has following a coma depends on a variety of factors, but the recovery is usually very slow. In some cases, a person who comes out of a coma will need life-long care.

The level of medical care that is needed after a persistent vegetative state or a coma is very high. This can lead to medical bills that take a toll on the family. It is sometimes possible to seek compensation to help cover the medical bills that come with this extensive care.

Source:, “Coma and Persistent Vegetative State,” accessed April 13, 2016