Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Comas Rarely Realistic in the Movies

Misrepresentation of Comas May Skew Public Perception of Illness

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 8, 2006 - The next time you see someone miraculously awaken from a coma at the movies, you may need to chalk it up to fiction rather than fact.

A new study shows that comas are often misrepresented in movies, and many people have a hard time telling the difference between medicine and movie magic. Researchers say that misunderstanding could create problems in making real-life decisions in dealing with comas.

Out of more than 30 movies with characters in prolonged comas, researchers found only two of the films showed a reasonably accurate representation of comas.

"We understand that making motion pictures is an art form and that entertainment is a very important component of that art form," says researcher Eelco Wijdicks, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in a news release. "But this misrepresentation in both U.S. and foreign movies is problematic. We have some concerns with using coma and awakening in comedies."

"The public has become more sophisticated in their medical knowledge and we presume they would appreciate a more accurate display of devastating neurologic injury," says Wijdicks.

A coma is an abnormal state of deep unconsciousness from which a person can't be roused. People in a coma cannot speak, do not respond to commands, and cannot make voluntary movements.

Comas may occur as the result of trauma to the head, disease such as meningitismeningitis, strokestroke, or diabetesdiabetes, or poisoning.

Taking Cinematic License With Coma

In the study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers reviewed 30 movies released from 1970 to 2004 that depicted a prolonged coma.

Accuracy of the movie's depiction of comatose patients was defined by appearance, the complexity of care, cause of coma, probability of awakening, and discussions between the doctor and family members.

The study showed comas were most often depicted as caused by a motor vehicle accident or violence (63%) and the time in a comatose state varied from days to 10 years.

Awakening from a coma occurred in 18 of the 30 movies. Researchers found awakening was often sudden with no physical or mental problems, even after a prolonged coma.

All but one of the movies showed the actors portraying coma in the "Sleeping Beauty" image of a coma patient with eyes closed and beautifully groomed, even though in reality people in comas often have their eyes open and can open their eyes in response to speech and pain.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix