Decreased alertness is a state of reduced awareness.
A coma is a state of decreased alertness from which a patient cannot be awakened. A long-term coma is called a vegetative state.
Many conditions can cause decreased alertness, including:
Brain disorders or injury, such as:
Injury or accidents, such as:
Heart or breathing problems, such as:
Toxins and drugs, such as:
Get medical help for any decrease in consciousness, even when it is due to alcohol intoxication, fainting, or a seizure disorder that has already been diagnosed.
See the article on seizures for tips on how to care for a person who is having a seizure.
Persons with epilepsy or other seizure disorder should carry a Medic-Alert bracelet or pendant describing their condition. They should avoid situations that have triggered a seizure in the past.
Get medical help if someone has decreased alertness that cannot be explained. Call your local emergency number (such as 911) if normal alertness does not return quickly.
Most often, a person with decreased consciousness will be evaluated in an emergency room.
The doctor will perform a physical examination. The exam will include a detailed look at the heart, breathing, and nervous system.
The health care team will ask questions about the person's medical history and symptoms, including
Tests that may be done include:
Treatment depends on the cause of the decreased alertness. How well a person does depends on the cause of the condition. The longer the person has had decreased alertness, the worse the outcome.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.