Drug-induced comas: When and how are they used?

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Drug-induced comas: When and how are they used?

Question

What is the purpose of a drug-induced coma?

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Answer

Coma is a state of prolonged unconsciousness in which the brain is functioning at its lowest level of alertness. Under certain circumstances, doctors may induce a temporary coma using a controlled dose of barbiturate drug. This is referred to as a drug-induced coma or medically induced coma.

Drug-induced coma may be used to protect the brain following major brain surgery or for prolonged seizures. It may also be used to control brain swelling (intracranial hypertension) caused by a brain injury — such as due to head trauma, stroke or infection. However, such use is controversial.

Drug-induced comas are used only when conventional therapy to relieve brain swelling has failed. Barbiturates reduce brain activity, which allows the brain the time it needs to heal. But this potential benefit must be weighed against potential serious complications of the treatment, such as pneumonia.

Last Updated: 02/01/2006
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