The difference between coma and brain death 

By: Abi & Thalia

When someone is in a coma, the person is unconscious and has limited brain activity. The person is still alive but they cannot be woken up and they show no signs of awareness. When a person is in a coma, their eyes will remain closed and they will not respond to their surroundings.

A person can go into a coma for a variety of reasons. The person may have suffered a traumatic head injury, stroke, or brain tumor. A person can even go into a coma from diabetes or an infection. Being in a coma is a medical emergency and quick action is needed to preserve the person’s life and brain function. 

The symptoms of a coma are having closed eyes, depressed brainstem reflexes (meaning that pupils do not contract when light is shunned upon them), no response of limbs – just reflex movements, no response to pain – just reflex movements, and irregular breathing. These symptoms are the most common ones that are seen when a person falls into a coma. 

There is another type of coma called vegetative state coma. A vegetative state coma is when the person’s brain is very damaged and has been deprived of oxygen for a long time. The symptoms include the person looking like they are asleep and unable to wake up or respond to commands.

When in a vegetative state, complications are bound to happen. Some of the most common ones include infections, pneumonia, bed pressure sores, and contracture of the muscles. 

When someone is brain dead, the person’s brain is no longer working in any capacity. The brain has no oxygen nor any blood flow. Other organs, which include the kidneys, heart, or liver, are able to work for a short amount of time if the patient is on a breathing machine, however, when a patient is declared brain dead, they are no longer living.

Brain dead patients often look as they are asleep, however, they are not. The reason for this is because the brain no longer works and is considered dead, this means the parts of the brain that feel, sense, and respond to everything around them no longer function. Brain dead patients have to be put on a ventilator because the brain of the patient no longer tells the patient to breathe. 

Brain death is when: oxygen supply to the brain has fully stopped, there is swelling to the brain, or the death of the tissue in the brain. This can be caused by cardiac arrest, a heart attack, etc.

Some symptoms of brain death include no gag reflex, no oculo-vestibular reflex (ice water in ear), the person doesn’t breathe when taken off of breathing machine/ventilator, no sense of pain, and no brain activity on an electroencephalogram. Symptoms of brain death also have a lot to do with the patients eyes, for example, pupils not responding to light, no blinking while eye surface is being touched, and the eyes don’t move when you move the patients head.

Brain death and coma are similar, whereas both seem to have an effect on the brain. The biggest difference between a coma and a brain dead patient is that some patients in a coma may improve however, once a patient is declared brain dead, there is no cure and they will never be able to improve their health and recover. When someone is considered brain dead they are also considered dead and passed away. A coma is a deep state of unconsciousness and brain death is when the brain is no longer functioning and there is no sign of activity in the brain. 

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