Level of consciousness

Level of consciousness

Level of consciousness (LOC) is a measurement of a person's arousability and responsiveness to stimuli from the environment.cite book |author=Kandel ER, Jessell, Thomas M.; Schwartz, James H. |title=Principles of neural science |publisher=McGraw-Hill |location=New York |year=2000 |pages=901 |isbn=0-8385-7701-6 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-03 |url = http://books.google.com/books?id=yzEFK7Xc87YC&pg=PA901&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U3cQPvmVUv1WBpAY0q1VwCNncmCEg] A mildly depressed level of consciousness may be classed as lethargy; someone in this state can be aroused with little difficulty. People who are have a more depressed level of consciousness and cannot be fully aroused. Those who are not able to be aroused from a sleep-like state are said to be stuporous. Coma is the inability to make any purposeful response. Scales such as the Glasgow coma scale have been designed to measure level of consciousness.

An altered level of consciousness can result from a variety of factors, including alterations in the chemical environment of the brain (e.g. exposure to poisons), insufficient oxygen or blood flow in the brain, and excessive pressure within the skull. Prolonged unconsciousness is understood to be a sign of a medical emergency. A deficit in the level of consciousness suggests that both of the cerebral hemispheres or the reticular activating system have been injured.Porth, p. 838] A decreased level of consciousness correlates to increased morbidity (disability) and mortality (death).Scheld "et al". p. 530] Thus it is a valuable measure of a patient's medical and neurological status. In fact, some sources consider level of consciousness to be one of the vital signs.cite book |author=Forgey WW |title=Wilderness Medicine, Beyond First Aid, 5th Edition |publisher=Globe Pequot |location=Guilford, Conn |year=1999 |pages =13 |isbn=0-7627-0490-X |oclc= |doi= |accessdate= 2008-07-04 |url = http://books.google.com/books?id=UNwzDUy9AlsC&pg=PA13&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U0hVgy-07KsHzRljR6VPEnh-_GUkg]


Scales and terms to classify the levels of consciousness differ, but in general, reduction in response to stimuli indicates decreasing level of consciousness (see table at right). Assessment of LOC involves checking orientation: people who are able promptly and spontaneously to state their name, location, and the date or time are said to be oriented to self, place, and time, or "oriented X3".cite book |author=Kruse MJ |title=Nursing the Neurological and Neurotrauma Patient |publisher=Rowman & Allanheld |location=Totowa, N.J |year=1986 |pages= 57–58 |isbn=0-8476-7451-7 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=
url= http://books.google.com/books?id=3BN3d2Ps8HAC&pg=PA57&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U2AuK_kFayazuBejC2w1lQ5AJQEqw#PPA58,M1
] A normal sleep stage from which a person is easily awakened is also considered a normal level of consciousness. "Clouding of consciousness" is a term for a mild alteration of consciousness with alterations in attention and wakefulness. People who do not respond quickly with information about their name, location, and the time are considered "obtuse" or "confused". A confused person may be bewildered, disoriented, and have difficulty following instructions. Some scales have "delirious" below this level, in which a person may be restless or agitated and exhibit a marked deficit in attention. A "somnolent" person shows excessive drowsiness and responds to stimuli only with incoherent mumbles or disorganized movements. In "obtundation", a person has a decreased interest in the surroundings, slowed responses, and sleepiness. People with an even lower level of consciousness, stupor, only respond by grimacing or drawing away from painful stimuli. Comatose people do not even make this response to stimuli, have no corneal or gag reflex, and they may have no pupillary response to light.

Causes of alteration

A lowered level of consciousness can indicate a deficit in brain function.Porth, p. 838] Level of consciousness can be lowered when the brain receives insufficient oxygen (as occurs in hypoxia); insufficient blood (as occurs in shock); or has an alteration in the brain's chemistry.cite book |author= Pollak AN, Gupton CL |title=Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured |publisher=Jones and Bartlett |location=Boston |year=2002 |pages=140 |isbn=0-7637-1666-9 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=xAPuKkKA6FEC&pg=PT177&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U1I-M4FEBUK26mGD0CTUQZivFL0bg] Metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus and uremia can alter consciousness. Hypo- or hypernatremia (decreased and elevated levels of sodium, respectively) as well as dehydration can also produce an altered LOC.cite book |author=Johnson AF, Jacobson BH |title=Medical Speech-language Pathology: A Practitioner's Guide |publisher=Thieme |location=Stuttgart |year=1998 |pages=142 |isbn=0-86577-688-1 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url= http://books.google.com/books?id=Vo5cPaOEG_4C&pg=PA142&vq=level+of+consciousness&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_search_s&sig=ACfU3U3YkiG1_xERxjD60jvwzW0bcOs22w] A pH outside of the range the brain can tolerate will also alter LOC.cite book |author=Tindall SC |editor=Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW |chapter= Level of consciousness |title= Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations
publisher=Butterworth Publishers |location=|year=1990 |pages= |isbn= |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=cm&partid=380
] Exposure to drugs, alcohol or toxins may also lower LOC, as may a core temperature that is too high or too low (hyperthermia or hypothermia). Increases in intracranial pressure (the pressure within the skull) can also cause altered LOC. It can result from traumatic brain injury such as concussion. Stroke and intracranial hemorrhage are other causes. Infections of the central nervous system may also be associated with decreased LOC; for example, an altered LOC is the most common symptom of encephalitis.cite book |author= Scheld WM, Whitley RJ, Marra CM |title=Infections of the Central Nervous System |publisher=Lippincott Williams & Wilkins |location=Hagerstown, MD |year=2004 |pages= 219|isbn=0-7817-4327-3 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url = http://books.google.com/books?id=jjvFj6aQeMgC&pg=PA530&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U3itW7oJyjTZbT1hoO5VjGI7QzBjQ#PPA530,M1] Neoplasms within the intracranial cavity can also affect consciousness, as can epilepsy and post-seizure states. A decreased LOC can also result from a combination of factors.


Although the neural science behind alertness, wakefulness, and arousal are not fully known, the reticular formation is known to play a role in these. The ascending reticular activating system is a postulated group of neural connections that receives sensory input and projects to the cerebral cortex through the midbrain and thalamus from the retucular formation. Since this system is thought to modulate wakefulness and sleep, interference with it, such as injury, illness, or metabolic disturbances, could alter the level of consciousness.

Normally, stupor and coma are produced by interference with the brain stem, such as can be caused by a lesion or indirect effects, such as brain herniation. Mass lesions in the brain stem normally cause coma due to their effects on the reticular formation.cite book |quote=Mass lesions within the brainstem produce coma by virtue of direct effects on the reticular formation |author=Tindall SC |editor=Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW |chapter= Level of consciousness |title= Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations
publisher=Butterworth Publishers |location=|year=1990 |pages= |isbn= |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=cm&partid=380
] Mass lesions that occur above the tentorium cerebelli (pictured) normally do not significantly alter the level of consciousness unless they are very large or affect both cerebral hemispheres.


Assessing LOC involves determining an individual's response to external stimuli.cite book |author=von Koch CS, Hoff JT|chapter= Diagnosis and management of depressed states of consciousness |editor=Doherty GM |title=Current Surgical Diagnosis and Treatment |publisher=McGraw-Hill Medical |location= |year=2005 |pages= 863 |isbn=0-07-142315-X |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-04 |url= http://books.google.com/books?id=c3I-PFkMN2YC&pg=PA863&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U084SW9323Y0i399lPQxCu2AeJlBw] Speed and accuracy of responses to questions and reactions to stimuli such as touch and pain are noted. Reflexes, such as the cough and gag reflexes, are also means of judging LOC. Once the level of consciousness is determined, clinicians seek clues for the cause of any alteration.


One tool for measuring LOC objectively, Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), has come into almost universal use for assessing people with brain injury.cite book |author=Porth C |title=Essentials of Pahtophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States |publisher=Lippincott Williams & Wilkins |location=Hagerstown, MD |year=2007 |pages=835 |isbn=0-7817-7087-4 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=2008-07-03 |url= http://books.google.com/books?id=57RQC-3OPtUC&pg=PT858&dq=%22level+of+consciousness%22&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U2GKFnXp7RoiMFDHEcfjOvzPc42wA] Verbal, motor, and eye-opening responses to stimuli are measured, scored, and added into a final score on a scale of 3–15, with a lower score being a more decreased level of consciousness.

The Grady Coma Scale classes patients on a scale of I to V along a scale of confusion, stupor, deep stupor, abnormal posturing, and coma.

The AVPU scale is another means of measuring LOC: patients are assessed to determine whether they are alert, responsive to verbal stimuli, responsive to painful stimuli, or unresponsive. To determine responsiveness to voice, a caregiver speaks to, or, failing that, yells at the paitent. Responsiveness to pain is determined with a mild painful stimulus such as a pinch; moaning or withdrawal from the stimulus is considered a response to pain. The ACDU scale, like AVPU, is easier to use than the GCS and produces similarly accurate results.cite book |author= Posner JB, Saper CB, Schiff ND, Plum F |title=Plum and Posner's Diagnosis of Stupor and Coma |publisher=Oxford University Press, USA |location= |year=2007 |pages=41 |isbn=0-19-532131-6 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=] Using ACDU, a patient is assessed for alertness, confusion, drowsiness, and unresponsiveness.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • level of consciousness — position or standard of conscious awareness …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Altered level of consciousness — This article is about the medical concept. For the philosophical concept, see Consciousness. Altered level of consciousness An intracranial hemorrhage, one cause of altered level of consciousness ICD 10 R …   Wikipedia

  • Consciousness — Representation of consciousness from the seventeenth century. Consciousness is a term that refers to the relati …   Wikipedia

  • consciousness — noun 1 being able to see/hear/feel things ADJECTIVE ▪ full ▪ higher ▪ to aspire to a higher consciousness ▪ cosmic, divine ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • Consciousness-based healthcare — (CBH), an emerging field of complementary and alternative medicine, is the application of consciousness based interventions to achieve tangible, beneficial outcomes across a wide range of health concerns including physical and emotional issues.… …   Wikipedia

  • Consciousness — • In its widest sense it includes all sensations, thoughts, feelings, and volitions, in fact the sum total of mental life Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Consciousness     Consciousness …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Consciousness Explained —   Author(s) Daniel C. Dennett …   Wikipedia

  • consciousness — /kon sheuhs nis/, n. 1. the state of being conscious; awareness of one s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc. 2. the thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual or of an aggregate of people: the moral consciousness of …   Universalium

  • consciousness — /ˈkɒnʃəsnəs / (say konshuhsnuhs) noun 1. the state of being conscious. 2. inward sensibility of something; knowledge of one s own existence, sensations, cognitions, etc. 3. the thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual, or of an… …   Australian-English dictionary

  • consciousness — noun Date: 1629 1. a. the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself b. the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact c. awareness; especially conce …   New Collegiate Dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”