Department of Neurology

Can coma be caused by seizures?

Q: A friend of mine recently had a peculiar case. Having to work in front of his computer for three days non stop, with very little time to rest, he felt a headache the third day, and suddenly fell into a deep coma which lasted three weeks. He is know all right and lives a normal life. Please note that he is a computer engineer and is used to long exposures to the computer (but surely not as much as three days). The doctors did not know the cause of his coma. They even gave up hope him recovering. My friend does not, to his and his family's knowledge, have any history of epilepsy. Could this sudden coma be caused by an epilepsy attack? Can epilepsy cause coma?

My friend is 35 years old. I know the information sent is very scant but this is our only hope to understand what might have caused this attack. My friend lives in Brazil and is currently in vacation in Lebanon. Thank you in advance for any information

A: It is uncommon, but a continuous seizure (status epilepticus) could cause an unresponsive state for several weeks, although it is unlikely that it would have improved without seizure therapy.

If your friend would like to sort this further, I suggest he obtain copies of his hospital records and review his case carefully with a neurologist. He should also bring along persons who witnessed the early part of the coma since this would help establish seizures, if they did occur. For example, convulsive status epilepticus usually starts with jerking of all extremities. Non-convulsive status epilepticus is often associated with staring, and automatisms (picking at things, chewing, lip smacking). Without additional information, it may not be possible to determine what exactly happened.

Return to Question Page