A medically induced coma is when a patient receives a controlled dose of an anesthetic, typically propofol, pentobarbital or thiopental, to cause a temporary coma or a deep state of unconsciousness. This type of coma is used to protect the brain from swelling by reducing the metabolic rate of brain tissue, as well as the cerebral blood flow. Throughout a medically induced coma, a patient’s critical life functions are constantly monitored by an anesthesiologist or other physician in a critical care setting only.
When do physicians medically induce coma?
A patient who is in a medically induced coma has a brain injury with swelling that has not responded to other treatments. When the brain swells it can be life-threatening, as it can constrict blood supply and destroy additional brain tissue. When a patient is put in a medically induced coma or deep state of unconsciousness, the brain is able to rest and swelling is more likely to decrease. When swelling is relieved, pressure on the brain also reduces, hopefully preventing some or all brain damage from occurring.
How does a medically induced coma differ from sedation?
While a medically induced coma puts a patient in a very deep unconscious state, sedation puts a patient in a semi-conscious state. Sedation is often given to allow a patient to be comfortable during a surgical or medical procedure and is administered through an intravenous catheter (IV), with minimal side effects. A medically induced coma is only administered in intensive care units, whereas sedation can be administered not only in hospitals, but ambulatory surgery centers and doctors’ or dentists’ offices.