Drug-Induced Coma

Important Things to Know About Drug-Induced Coma Treatment

One of the most controversial medical practices currently is the use of the drug-induced coma. A very serious medical procedure, many people do not understand how or why it would ever be used. This article serves to provide the reader with an easy to understand overview of drug-induced comas in order to educate and inform.

What is a Drug-Induced Coma?

Typically speaking, a coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness where the brain functions only at its lowest level of activity. On occasion, a coma is necessary in treatment, and the doctor may temporarily induce one through the use of controlled doses of barbiturates. These are also known as medically-induced comas.

What are They Used For?

The purpose of the drug-induced coma is to protect the brain. This may be necessary after major brain trauma, brain surgery, and even for seizures. Sometimes there is swelling in the brain as well, due to infections such as encephalitis, H1N1 complications, or problems relating to strokes. By putting the patient into a coma, the brain is able to relax and recuperate, causing significant reduction in swelling and seizures.

Possible Controversies

As one can expect, this procedure has been met with a lot of resistance and is the subject of many controversies. Many people are uneducated on the subject and believe that inducing a coma is counter-productive to actually healing the patient, and therefore liken it to euthanizing a person. Others that are more familiar with the practice are simply aware of the risks involved and the possibility for infection and illness.

Pneumonia is a common problem that pops up due to this procedure, and depending on the severity of the pre-existing illness or condition, can greatly reduce the chances for a positive outcome. It is important to mention here, though, that doctors typically do not turn towards this practice unless all other brain swelling reduction methods have been tried and found to be ineffectual.

The Process

When it has been determined that a coma should be induced for treatment, the doctor will call in a very experienced anesthesiologist. This anesthesiologist initiates the process and gives the patient either pentobarbital or propofol, both which can easily render the patient into a state of prolonged unconscious. At this point, the patient’s brain wave activity that is seen on an EEG screen will go flat, essentially meaning that the patient is 100% unresponsive to external stimuli.

From this point, the doctors and nurses will monitor the patient’s swelling in the cranium, and make charts of it. They will be able to determine how long the drug-induced coma needs to last for. Special attention will be paid to the patient’s nutrition, muscle, and arterial health, since long periods of inactivity can lead to blood clots and immobility.

 

Reported Side Effects

People that have been induced into a coma have made several reports of side effects. It is important to note, that many of these patients were going to suffer much more due to the brain swelling, and that it may have been the swelling-related damage and not the coma that caused any lasting effects.

One of the more common side effects that people speak of is a stiffness or occasional numbness in extremities. These issues may manifest as arthritis-like symptoms, and doctors will certainly be able to provide therapy and prescription pain reliever if necessary.

Sadly, some people undergo personality changes, a common problem with brain trauma and damage. Some people come out of the coma and find that they are not as hungry, aggressive, or even not in love with their spouse any longer. These are things you should be aware of if a family member’s doctor is treating them and speaking of inducing a coma.