The vegetative state is a chronic condition characterized by the absence of consciousness and responsiveness, due to a serious dysfunction of the cerebral hemispheres, but with sufficient sparing of the diencephalon and brainstem. This means that autonomic and motor reflexes are preserved and the sleep-wake cycle is resumed (although this does not always reflect a specific circadian rhythm and is not associated with environmental stimuli). In the vegetative state, in particular, the ability to maintain blood pressure, respiration, and cardiac function sufficient for survival is preserved. Furthermore, there are signs that indicate the integrity of the reticular formation (e.g., opening and movement of the eyes) and of the brain stem (e.g. reactive pupils, oculo-cephalic reflex and, sometimes, yawning, chewing, and swallowing).
The patient can make involuntary movements in response to painful stimuli, but does not show awareness of himself or the environment around him and cannot interact with others or develop targeted responses to external stimuli. In the vegetative state, there is no cognitive function, as the cortex is severely damaged. Typically, in fact, this condition occurs after a coma and coincides with the recovery of the function of the brainstem and diencephalon, but not of the cortical one.
The most frequent causes are traumatic brain injury and diffuse cerebral hypoxia. However, any disorder of various traumatic, vascular, anoxic, or infectious nature that results in damage to the central nervous system can cause a vegetative state.
The vegetative state may result from toxic encephalopathy, ischemic infarction, intracerebral hemorrhage, or a mass occupying the cortex or brainstem.
Possible causes of vegetative state
The vegetative state is a common or probable symptom of these diseases
By clicking on the pathology you are interested in, you can read further information on its origins and the symptoms that characterize it. Vegetative State can also be a typical symptom of other diseases, not included in our database and therefore not listed.
This guide is in no way intended to replace the opinion of doctors or other healthcare professionals responsible for the correct interpretation of symptoms, to whom we refer to obtain a more precise indication of the origins of any symptom.