MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Vegetative State

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Feb 2021| Content last modified Feb 2021
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details

What is a vegetative state?

A vegetative state is when people with brain damage appear to be awake but don't do any purposeful actions or respond to what's going on around them.

  • A person in a vegetative state has basic automatic movements, such as breathing, coughing, yawning, or swallowing but doesn't do anything purposeful

  • Some people recover, but most die within 6 months

  • People in a vegetative state for longer than a few months are unlikely to recover

What causes a vegetative state?

What are the symptoms of a vegetative state?

People in a vegetative state can:

  • Open their eyes and blink

  • Sleep and wake up on a regular schedule

  • Do basic automatic movements, such as breathing, sucking, chewing, gagging, coughing, and swallowing

  • Be startled by loud sounds

People in a vegetative state can't:

  • Be aware of what’s going on around them

  • Speak or follow instructions

  • Think or move their body on purpose, such as to pull away from something painful

  • Control when they urinate or pass stool

How can doctors tell if someone is in a vegetative state?

How do doctors treat someone in a vegetative state?

There's no treatment to make a vegetative state get better. People sometimes recover a bit on their own depending on what their original problem was and how severe it was. People don't come back to normal, but a few relearn how to talk and understand people.

A person in a vegetative state needs long-term care, including:

If a person has been in a vegetative state for a long time and show no signs of recovering, doctors may talk to the family about not giving life-sustaining treatment in the event of a new illness or complication. Doctors and the person's family consider what the person would want and review any instructions available in a living will (advance directive Advance Directives Health care advance directives are legal documents that communicate a person’s wishes about health care decisions in the event the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions. There... read more ).

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version

OTHER TOPICS IN THIS CHAPTER

Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Test your knowledge

Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is cancer of the membrane that surrounds the chest wall (pleura) or abdomen. In the United States, which of the following is the only known cause of mesothelioma? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
TOP