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Vegetative State: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Do you know what a vegetative state is? Indeed, you know if any of your relatives or friends suffer from this problem. But are you sure you know what it is? 

Vegetative state (VS) is a medical term. Doctors use it to describe a state of unconsciousness. In this condition, patients show no awareness or interaction with their environment. VS has both short-term and long-term debilitating effects.

It occurs when the brain is no longer functioning normally. As a result, sufferers cannot think, move, or interact with their environment. It sounds scary, but there is a way out! Doctors can treat this disease if detected early!

This blog article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of a VS. We will also tell you the treatments available for those affected by it. Learn what signs you or your loved ones should look for so you can adopt the best plan of action to improve your quality of life.

 

What is a Vegetative State?

The diagnosis of a vegetative state is a condition in which a person experiences a complete lack of awareness of their own body and environment. The most common causes are severe or prolonged physical trauma to the brain. For example, it can be a stroke or a traumatic brain injury.

In a vegetative state, the person may open his eyes and appear awake. But, he lacks all consciousness. He may open his eyes in response to strong stimuli. For example, he does not squint at a bright light or cover his ears at a loud noise. The person does not react to any verbal commands. But he can make involuntary sounds. 

Living in a persistent vegetative state can be physically comfortable for a person. But it can leave him psychologically deadlocked. It is because he is not aware of his condition or his surroundings.

Also, have you ever heard of the human condition being a “vegetable”? That’s the condition that accurately describes a patient with VS. But it is unlikely that you would wish your friend to be in that condition.

 

Persistent Vegetative State Symptoms

man with persistent vs

What is a vegetative state, we have understood. Now let’s take a closer look at the symptoms. By studying the symptoms, you will better understand what it means to be in a vegetative state. Some symptoms may include the following:

  • Lack of response to stimuli. The person may appear to be awake, but they do not respond to external stimuli. These include pain, light, and sound. 
  • Weakness of motor reactions. The person cannot perform any voluntary movements.
  • Lack of spontaneous movements. The person does not move independently (for example, to scratch something).
  • Persistence of automatic but aimless movements. The movements could be more purposeful.

 

Other noticeable signs are:

  • Open eyes with minimal change in gaze. You can observe this in, e.g., a coma state.
  • Lack of communication or response to verbal commands. For example, no response to a family member’s voice.
  • Need assistance to eat and drink.
  • Moaning or grunting sounds. You can hear them when the person is disturbed.
  • Weak reflex reactions when performing specific tasks. 

In such people, you may also observe disorientation in time and place. And, of course, they may suffer from irregular sleep patterns.

 

Causes of Vegetative State

A vegetative state people usually cause after any illness. The most common cause is a traumatic brain injury. It often occurs as a result of a car accident or physical fight. 

Other common causes of a persistent vegetative state are: 

  • Stroke;
  • Drug overdose;
  • Hypoxia;
  • Infections or diseases affecting the brain, such as encephalitis
  • Anoxic brain trauma gets caused by the loss of blood supply to the brain. 

Each of these conditions can cause enough damage to the parts of the brain. It results in a vegetative state. 

This condition is usually irreversible. But some patients recover partially or entirely over time. Doctors strive for the best possible outcome with proper medical care and treatment.

 

Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

Non-traumatic brain injuries can lead to a vegetative state. These injuries are often caused by conditions such as: 

  • Stroke;
  • Anoxia;
  • Hypoxia;
  • Encephalitis. 

Inflammation of the brain or its blood vessels is a major cause of non-traumatic brain injuries due to the rupture of small vessels and the blockage of larger vessels. 

Disappearing white matter disease is another possible cause of such injuries. It damages the insulating tissue surrounding the nerve cells. It results in nontraumatic brain injury or death. 

Advanced medical care has saved many lives. But if not treated quickly enough, some people may remain in a vegetative state for long periods.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant cause of a vegetative state. Essentially, this severe neurological disorder occurs when the brain becomes deprived of oxygen. Or if the brain gets damaged due to external exposure or internal bleeding. 

A vegetative state diagnosis may be caused by accidents such as:

  • Falls;
  • Vehicle collisions;
  • Attacks. 

In some cases, TBI can lead to coma and long-term cognitive and physical impairment. 

Understanding the seriousness of TBI and how it can lead to a vegetative state is essential, as timely medical attention can prevent further escalation of symptoms.

 

Progressive Brain Damage

Many things can cause a condition known as a “vegetative state.” One of which is progressive brain damage. It can be the result of long-term degenerative diseases such as:

In all cases, progressive brain damage leads to a gradual deterioration of physical and mental abilities. It may end in the patient’s transition to a vegetative state. 

However, with timely recognition, treatment of the underlying cause, and proper supportive care, you may improve the chances of recovery for people suffering from this severe condition.

 

Vegetative State Diagnosis

vegetative state diagnosis

With the development of medical technology, diagnosis has become more accessible. But unfortunately, even with today’s technology, some ambiguities remain. 

Patients may appear completely unresponsive and non-functioning. But in fact, they may keep a certain degree of consciousness. Doctors are not yet able to determine it. 

The best technique for diagnosing any vegetative state is to observe the patient. You should do this over a long period. That way, doctors can better assess their reactions and any changes in behavior. 

Medical professionals need to pay proper attention. It is still difficult to accurately determine whether a patient is in a vegetative state. Especially if the patient is unable to communicate effectively by any available means. Because of this difficulty, each potential diagnosis requires special care.

 

Persistent Vegetative State Treatment

The treatment of individuals in a persistent vegetative state is highly specialized. And it requires comprehensive medical care. 

Such individuals can enjoy various interventions, including a return to normal activities, treatment of medical conditions, and support for emotional and spiritual needs. 

For optimal outcomes, you must individualize care. But it often includes multidisciplinary teams. Also, primary care physicians have:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Neurologists
  • Rehabilitation specialists
  • Clergy

Also, caregivers should strive to provide a supportive environment that respects autonomy while providing for the necessary physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the person in an enduring vegetative state.

 

Bottom Line

A vegetative state is a serious problem. And all issues must be treated by people! So if someone you know or a family member has this condition, don’t delay! Please make an appointment for them with a professional neurologist. The doctor will provide cutting-edge treatments. 

 

FAQs 

  • What does it mean to be in a vegetative state?

A vegetative state is a condition in which an individual has lost most of their cognitive functions. It can include recognizing faces, speaking, or remembering memories. The person may still be able to respond to stimuli, such as touch and sound.

  • Can a person recover from a vegetative state?

Yes, with the proper treatment and support. It is difficult to predict the degree of recovery, but some people have improved their lives after experiencing a vegetative state. 

  • Is a vegetative state the same as a coma?

No, a vegetative state is different from a coma. A person in a coma has lost all conscious and reflexive functions. They are unresponsive to any external stimuli, including sound and touch. An individual in a vegetative state may still be able to respond to some forms of stimulation. 

  • How can you tell if someone is in a vegetative state?

The best way to tell if someone is in a vegetative state is to observe them over a long period. They may still be conscious, such as responding to sound and touch. Look for any changes in behavior or reactions and signs. 

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been prepared.read more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well together.read more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your business.read more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any cookies.read more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going there.read more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my treatment.read more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to finish.read more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 stars.read more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his staff.read more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best treatment.read more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my doctor.read more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding solutions.read more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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