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What's the point of unconscious/comas?

  1. Feb 12, 2015 #1
    This question is specifically about comas after shock, as I think this relates to a subconscious decision of the body to do this to protect itself, as a pose to, for instance, alcoholic comas, where a toxin has shut down the brain. So; my question is, as a caveman style safety system, why does it make sense to put all your defences down to protect yourself?

    Thanks in advance for any knowledge you can share, and don't be afraid to tell me I'm completely wrong!

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2015 #2


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    Sometimes, it's not a choice. A coma can result from physical injury to the brain; it's not that the brain chooses to function at a minimal level, it may not be physically possible for the brain to function otherwise. In those cases where coma results, survival of the individual depends on how quickly care is rendered. If no one is available to care for someone who is unconscious, death will likely result.

    Some days, you get the bear; other days, the bear gets you. :(
  4. Feb 12, 2015 #3


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    An anecdote. My youngest had breath holding spells. She would hold her breath when she got really upset. When she passed out, she'd resume breathing.

    So maybe one benefit of unconsciousness is that it can help mitigate damages caused by over-reactive fight-or-flight responses.

    But, as SteamKing has implied, it doesn't have to be adaptive behavior, it could just be a byproduct of having adapted something as complicated as a brain.
  5. Feb 13, 2015 #4
    I have actually never heard of this. Can you link to anything that asserts a coma can result from purely psychological stress? (Coma is different than fainting or passing out, mind you.)
  6. Feb 14, 2015 #5


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    Not so much to address your coma question (a coma is extremely serious), but to address your loss of consciousness (LOC) question... Most causes of shock can be temporarily mitigated by laying the patient (Pt) down flat. So feinting accomplishes that mitigation task. (Well, except that in those situations the Pt often sustains a serious head injury from the fall -- oops).

  7. Feb 14, 2015 #6
  8. Feb 14, 2015 #7

    jim mcnamara

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    I'm with Zooby - this is a confusing thread. Coma is a serious problem, the body loses resources to the point where consciousness is no longer possible.

    Fainting is not a coma.

    First off there is generally no "point" to most severe physiological responses. A "point" involves the concept of some pre-defined benefit. Ain't none. Going into a coma state does not imply some inherent benefit. 200,000 years ago if a human went into a coma state s/he became predator food. So, unless some other poster can assert differently, with a good reference, I would submit this to be tantamount to dying and convey no special benefit. End of point.
  9. Feb 14, 2015 #8


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    Oops, thanks for the spelling correction, zooby! I'm just used to writing LOC on my PCRs... :-)

    There are some indications and benefits for medically induced comas, but those certainly don't apply to our caveman ancestors! :-)

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