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Popular Press Distorts Reality of Coma Patients

Reporters tend to focus on younger patients whose comas result from car crashes and violence

FRIDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Although few news stories about coma contain gross inaccuracies, they are skewed toward younger victims of motor vehicle crashes and violence, according to study findings published in the October issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Eelco F.M. Wijdicks, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., and a colleague searched the Lexis-Nexis database for newspaper headlines published between 2001 and 2005 containing the following words: coma, comatose, unconsciousness, vegetative state, awakening and brain dead.

The researchers identified 340 coma-related articles. They found that the subjects in these stories had a median age of 26, were twice as likely to be men, and that 71 percent of the comas were caused by motor vehicle crashes or violence. They also found 33 stories in which the comas were medically induced, a fact not mentioned in the headlines. An additional three stories cited "miracle" recoveries.

"When coma is a topic, the reporters of major U.S. newspapers select stories that involve young individuals involved in violence or trauma," the authors conclude. "However, a recent cohort that included 104 intensive care units in 45 U.S. hospitals reported an average patient age of 61 years. Furthermore, in another study on coma in the intensive care unit, patients were most commonly admitted because of drug intoxication and suicide attempts, stroke, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and shock. Thus, the general impression left by the daily newspaper headlines could be misleadingly different than the reality in the hospital."

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