Altered Level of Consciousness

Level of consciousness (LOC) is a measure of a person’s ability to interact with other people and to react to what is around them. A person with an altered level of consciousness may not respond to touch or voices. They may look vacant or blank. They may not make eye contact with others. The person may be limp and may not move for a long time. Or they may show little interest in moving. They may also be confused.

There are many causes of altered LOC. They include low blood sugar, infection, medicines, head injuries, seizures, stroke, and being intoxicated..

Altered LOC is a medical emergency. The healthcare provider will do tests to help find the cause. These may include blood tests and imaging tests. The person is treated so breathing and heart rate are stable. An IV (intravenous) line may be put into a vein in the arm or hand to give medicines. Once the cause of altered LOC is found, the goal is to treat the cause.

In almost all cases, the person will be admitted to the hospital for diagnostic testing and observation.

Some less common conditions, such as locked-in syndrome and akinetic mutism, seem like a coma. But the person is perfectly awake.

Home care

When your loved one is released from the hospital, you will be given guidelines for caring for them. In general:

  • Follow the healthcare provider's instructions for giving any prescribed medicines to your child.

  • Stay with your loved one or have another responsible adult look after them. Watch carefully for any return of symptoms or changes in behavior.

  • If the person has diabetes, make sure that any approved medicines are given on time and as prescribed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or our staff as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if new symptoms appear.

Call 911

Call 911 or get medical care right away if symptoms of altered LOC return.

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