Coma, Vegetative State, and Brain Death: What are the Differences?

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can change your life in an instant, whether you are the victim or a loved one of the victim. Any type of accident can lead to serious brain injuries, including those that force a victim into a coma, vegetative state, or to become brain dead.

Today, we wanted to look at the differences between these three states, as they are often confused for one another.

What is a coma?

When a patient is in a coma, he or she is in a state of consciousness that is depressed, which means the patient does not react to stimuli (such as voices or physical touch). A coma is different from brain death because the brain stems will signal responses and the patient will even exhibit breathing and motor responses that do not seem to have any purpose to them.

What is a vegetative state?

A vegetative state occurs when a patient is still considered alive, but that person has very limited consciousness. Even if the eyes are open, the patient will not follow the instructions of the doctor or follow their actions or movements. A patient in a vegetative state does not speak, but will react to stimuli.

What is brain death?

Brain death occurs when the activities in the brain and the brain stem ceases to function. Despite the cessation of activities, the reflexes that travel through the spinal cord might still show when a patient has been declared to be brain dead. These patients will likely need feeding tubes and respirators in order to survive.

How do these injuries occur?

These injuries are most often caused by severe trauma to the head. The most common causes of these traumatic brain injuries include the following:

  • Assault
  • Gun shots
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Construction accidents
  • Infections
  • Blunt force trauma to the head

If your loved one suffered a TBI, and is now unable to advocate for him or herself, you can protect their rights by calling an experienced Charlotte brain injury attorney. Call the office of Warren & Kallianos, PLLC at 704-377-7777 or complete a contact form found on our website to schedule your free consultation.


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