When something interferes with the interaction of the brain that enables awareness, the level of consciousness of a person may change in many ways. An altered level of consciousness is among the most common medical conditions. Studies estimate that over 5% of admissions to hospital emergency room are related to loss of consciousness. Consciousness can be measured by a spectrum ranging from full wakefulness to deep coma.
Causes of altered consciousness
– Trauma to the brain causing impaired consciousness. Traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability in young adults worldwide. Several skull injuries can cause a traumatic brain injury that causes, among other life-threatening complications, change in the level of consciousness.
– Infections are one of the common causes of loss of consciousness. The inflammation that accompanies infections is responsible for changing the level of consciousness of a person. Encephalitis and meningitis are two specific infections of the central nervous system that can cause an altered level of consciousness.
– Metabolic disorders which may cause excessive accumulation of waste in the body can trigger a change in the level of consciousness. As the body works to keep us alive, it produces waste and other chemicals that must be disposed of properly. Diabetes can be an example of a metabolic disorder that could lead to the distortion of the level of consciousness.
– Consumption of drugs is among the causes of changing levels of consciousness. Moreover, alcohol poisoning can cause loss of consciousness and is among the most common factors modifying the features of consciousness. Similarly, exposure to certain chemicals can cause unconsciousness or even death.
– Structural brain abnormalities. Such conditions can cause change of consciousness. Such abnormalities include tumors (benign or malignant), which can develop and cause structural changes in the brain. As a result, the blood vessels in the brain expand and may burst, resulting in flooding the brain with blood. Lesions arising from this situation may be one reason why we lose our consciousness.
The altered level of consciousness of a person can be materialized in one of the following forms:
– Confusion. A confused person cannot properly process all the information around them. Apathy and drowsiness are the most visible symptoms. The person may be disoriented.
– Delirium. This is the most common symptom in the elderly. Signs of delirium include disorientation, which may be total. Affected people experience delusions and hallucinations with changing levels of consciousness.
– Stupor. Stupor is characterized by the lack of reaction of a person, situation in which the sufferer can be brought back to reality only through repeated pain stimulation.
– Coma. Comatose persons appear to be asleep, but they cannot be awakened. Reflexes are often absent, and legs and arms are stiff. Also, the breathing rate slows during coma. Coma means losing all consciousness.