Popular Misconceptions About Comas

 Posted by on 10 May 2006 at 2:30 pm  Uncategorized
May 102006

Comatose patients are often inaccurately portrayed in movies and television, according to this recent paper from the Mayo Clinic department of neurology:

A coma is a deep state of unconsciousness in which individuals are alive but unable to consciously respond to their environment. Comas can result from injuries, such as head trauma or stroke, or from complications of an illness like multiple sclerosis.

Comatose patients sometimes have the ability to move and respond to external stimuli. They can often smile, open their eyes, and even appear to have the desire speak…

The movie patients are also portrayed as “sleeping beauties” whose eyes are often closed. They generally look well groomed with good coloring and complexion. There are typically no feeding tubes, and the patients seem to somehow suffer no loss of muscle tone.

In a similar study published in the British Medical Journal last year, American soap operas were shown to paint an improbably rosy picture of coma patients, too.

Only 8 percent of comatose patients in soap operas died compared with the real life 50-percent death rate, the researchers of that study said. And those who survived fully recovered, whereas realistically just one in 10 regain their previous health–usually after months of intense rehabilitation, said the authors…

“We are concerned that these movies can often be misinterpreted as realistic representations, especially in the wake of the Terri Schiavo tragedy and public debate,” [Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Eelco] Wijdicks said.

Here’s the journal article abstract.

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