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First Aid for Loss of Consciousness - Unconsciousness, First Aid

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Unconsciousness is defined as a state of unawareness or an inability to respond as a result of reduced brain stem activity.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

There are many causes of unconsciousness, or loss of consciousness. It can be caused by illness or by injury. It can also be the result of excessive alcohol or drug use. Other causes include low blood sugar levels and fainting.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

The signs and symptoms of unconsciousness include:

  • inability to respond. For example, a person may not be able to clear the throat, yawn, cough, or awaken.
  • coma
  • drowsiness
  • disorientation, a condition in which the person can't identify familiar people or places

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of unconsciousness is made when a person will not awaken with gentle rousing. An individual who is unconscious will not be able to cough and may have difficulty breathing. The person will not be able to open his or her eyes and doesn't respond to stimuli such as touch or pain.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Prevention of unconsciousness focuses on treatment of the underlying problems. Control of blood sugar is required if someone has diabetes. An individual with diabetes should wear an identification bracelet to alert others in case he or she loses consciousness. Excessive alcohol and illegal drugs should be avoided.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    First aid is the treatment that is usually provided when someone is unconscious.

  • Check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, or movement in response to stimulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR.
  • Contact the emergency medical system immediately.
  • If a spinal cord injury is suspected, avoid moving the person except to assist breathing. If the victim is unable to breathe, gently logroll him or her into a position so that rescue breathing can be started.
  • Gently restrain the victim if he or she becomes agitated.
  • Protect the victim from injury if seizures occur.
  • Keep the victim warm.
  • Stay with the victim until medical help arrives.
  • Try to get the victim to eat or drink something sweet upon regaining consciousness if he or she appears to have low blood sugar.
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Rolling a person with a spinal cord injury can worsen the damage. Therefore, it is important to move the victim only as needed to assist with breathing.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    The emergency medical system should be contacted immediately, and the person will be transported to the emergency department for care.


    Author:James Broomfield, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:11/29/00
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:07/05/01