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Causes - Disorders of consciousness

Disorders of consciousness can occur if the parts of the brain responsible for consciousness are injured or damaged.

The main causes can generally be divided into:

  • traumatic brain injury
  • non-traumatic brain injury
  • progressive brain damage

Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury occurs when an object or outside force causes severe trauma to the brain.

This is most often caused by:

  • falls
  • traffic accidents
  • violent assault

Find out more about head injury

Non-traumatic brain injury

Non-traumatic brain damage is usually caused by a health condition, such as:

  • a condition that deprives the brain of oxygen (without a continuous supply of oxygen, brain tissue begins to die)
  • a condition that directly attacks brain tissue

Specific causes of non-traumatic brain injury include:

  • strokes
  • heart attacks
  • severe brain infections (such as meningitis, an infection of the outer layer of the brain, or encephalitis, an infection of the brain itself)
  • drug overdoses
  • poisoning
  • almost drowning or other types of suffocation, such as smoke inhalation
  • a blood vessel bursting, leading to bleeding inside the brain (the medical term for this is a ruptured brain aneurysm)

Progressive brain damage

In some cases, brain damage can gradually occur over time.

Examples of conditions that cause progressive brain damage include:

Page last reviewed: 27 May 2022
Next review due: 27 May 2025