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Alternative NamesStuporous; Mental status - decreased; Loss of alertness; Decreased consciousness; Alertness - decreased; Changes in consciousness; Obtundation; Coma; Unresponsiveness
Definition Return to top
Decreased consciousness is reduced alertness or awareness.
Considerations Return to top
A persistent coma is called vegetative state.
Causes Return to top
Many conditions can cause decreased consciousness, including:
Home Care Return to top
A decrease in consciousness almost always require a doctor's attention, except perhaps when due to alcohol intoxication, simple fainting, or a previously recognized seizure disorder.
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. Such individuals should avoid situations that have previously triggered a seizure.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
See medical help if someone has unexplained, decreased consciousness. Call your local emergency number (such as 911) if normal consciousness does not return quickly.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Most often, a person with decreased consciousness will be evaluated in an emergency room setting.
The doctor will perform a physical examination. The exam will include a detailed look at the cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous systems.
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 underlying cause of the decreased consciousness. How well a person does depends on the cause of the condition. The longer the person has a decreased or altered level of consciousness, the worse the outcome.
References Return to top
Blok BK, Newman TM. Syncope. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 52.
Huff JS. Altered mental status and coma. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 259.
Kirsch TD. Head injury. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 255.Update Date: 4/21/2009 Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.