Main AHCA Website

AHCA’s main website for information on Medicaid, Health Quality Assurance and the Florida Center for Health Information and Transparency.

Go >

Florida Health Information Network

This website provides information and resources relating to AHCA’s initiatives for Health Information Technology and Health Information Exchange.

Go >


FloridaHealthFinder.gov

Provides health education and information to compare and locate health care providers in Florida to make well-informed health care decisions.

Go >
AHCA Network of Websites

Health Education


Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Alertness - decreased

Definition

Decreased alertness is a state of reduced awareness.

A coma is a state of decreased alertness from which a person cannot be awakened. A long-term coma is called a vegetative state.

Alternative Names

Stuporous; Mental status - decreased; Loss of alertness; Decreased consciousness; Changes in consciousness; Obtundation; Coma; Unresponsiveness

Causes

Many conditions can cause decreased alertness, including:

Brain disorders or injury, such as:

Injury or accidents, such as:

  • Diving accidents and near drowning
  • Heat stroke
  • Very low body temperature (hypothermia)

Heart or breathing problems, such as:

Toxins and drugs, such as:

  • Alcohol abuse (binge drinking or damage from long-term alcohol use)
  • Exposure to heavy metals, hydrocarbons, or toxic gases
  • Overuse of drugs such as opiates, narcotics, sedatives, and anti-anxiety or seizure medicines
  • Side effect of almost any medicine, such as those used to treat seizures, depression, psychosis, and other illnesses

Home Care

Get medical help for any decrease in consciousness, even when it is due to alcohol intoxication, fainting, or a seizure disorder that has already been diagnosed.

See the article on seizures for tips on how to care for a person who is having a seizure.

People with epilepsy or other seizure disorders should wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace describing their condition. They should avoid situations that have triggered a seizure in the past.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Get medical help if someone has decreased alertness that cannot be explained. Call your local emergency number (such as 911) if normal alertness does not return quickly.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Most often, a person with decreased consciousness will be evaluated in an emergency room.

The health care provider will perform a physical examination. The exam will include a detailed look at the heart, breathing, and nervous system.

The health care team will ask questions about the person's medical history and symptoms, including:

Time pattern

  • When did the decreased alertness happen?
  • How long did it last?
  • Has it ever happened before? If so, how many times?
  • Did the person behave the same way during past episodes?

Medical history

  • Does the person have epilepsy or a seizure disorder?
  • Does the person have diabetes?
  • Has the person been sleeping well?
  • Has there been a recent head injury?

Other

  • What medicines does the person take?
  • Does the person use alcohol or drugs on a regular basis?
  • What other symptoms are present?

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment depends on the cause of the decreased alertness. How well a person does depends on the cause of the condition.

The longer the person has had decreased alertness, the worse the outcome.

References

Bassin BS, Cooke JL. Depressed consciousness and coma. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 16.

Bassin BS, Cooke JL, Barsan WG. Altered mental status and coma. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 94.

Lank PM, Kusin S. Ethanol and opioid intoxication and withdrawal. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 154.

Lennihan L. Delirium and Confusion. In: Rowland LP, Pedley TA, eds. Merritt's Neurology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 2.

MacNeill EM, Vashist S. Approach to syncope and altered mental status. Ped Clin N Am. 2013;60(5):1083-1106.

Review Date:6/1/2015
Reviewed By:Daniel Kantor, MD, Kantor Neurology, Coconut Creek, FL and Immediate Past President of the Florida Society of Neurology (FSN). Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

We Appreciate Your Feedback
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No

2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No