Some coronavirus ventilator patients taking weeks to wake up from medically-induced comas

The cognitive effects of coronavirus is similar to those seen when patients awaken from deep sedation after major surgery, one professor said.

A significant number of coronavirus patients who depended on ventilators for long periods are taking days or weeks to awake up from medically induced comas, one report says.

“Some of these patients, we wean them down off sedation, take the breathing tube out and right away they give us a thumbs up, or a few words,” Nicholas Schiff, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York who specializes in treating disorders of consciousness, told the Washington Post. “But there are others who are still not following commands and still not expressing themselves weeks later.”

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Schiff said all of his colleagues in the field are seeing patients with prolonged recovery, though the incidence of the cases is still unknown.

“I personally have observed, and have had cases referred to me, of people with eyes-closed coma for two to three weeks. It’s a big deal,” he told the paper.

Members of the medical community are concerned over the cognitive effects of coronavirus infections. (iStock)

Members of the medical community are concerned over the cognitive effects of coronavirus infections. (iStock)

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One report examining the neurological implications of COVID-19 infections says the “sheer volume of those suffering critical illness is likely to result in an increased burden of long-term cognitive impairment.”

In the Washington Post piece, experts theorized causes for prolonged recoveries but also noted fundamental gaps in their knowledge on the matter and said more precise information is necessary.

Schiff told the paper many of the patients show no sign of a stroke. Earlier in the pandemic, doctors began to notice that blood clots could be another troubling complication for patients who are hospitalized with coronavirus.

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Emery Brown, professor of medical engineering and neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, likened the cognitive effects of coronavirus to those seen when patients awaken from deep sedation after major surgery.

Brown said faster recoveries could be possible if doctors lower the dosages of sedatives during mechanical ventilation.

Schiff said while it’s certainly known that prolonged sedation can extend the time it takes for patients to wake up, 12 days after sedation ends is “not typical.”

Fox News' David Aaro contributed to this report.