Study Shows Forty Percent of PVS Patients Misdiagnosed, Half Recover

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 21, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study Shows Forty Percent of PVS Patients Misdiagnosed, Half Recover Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 21
, 2007

Rhodes, Greece ( — A new international study finds that about forty percent of patients like Terri Schiavo who are supposedly in a persistent vegetative state are misdiagnosed and another fifty percent of them recover from their situation. The study finds the patients in question were in a minimally conscious state and could improve.

The studies, conducted by researchers in Belgium, found that the level of misdiagnosis has not decreased in the last 15 years. There were presented at the European Neurological Society Meeting in Greece.

Dr. Steven Laureys, from the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège, stressed during the meeting that the vegetative state in a significant proportion of patients admitted to intensive care may be transitory.

"The study underlines the importance of extreme caution in any decision to limit the life chances of patients during the acute phase of a vegetative state," he said.

Laureys and his team studied whether the so-called PVS state is a long-term proposition for patients and he analyzed data collected over a five year period at the 26 bed intensive care unit at the university hospital.

He and his colleagues examined 5900 patients and found that just over half of those who showed some degree of impaired consciousness on admission diagnosed as in a vegetative state.

Of these patients with serious brain damage, 28% died in the intensive care unit. 15% were classified as still in a vegetative state when they left intensive care.

However, just over half of those who had originally been considered to be in a vegetative state left the unit having recovered consciousness to some degree.

The largest group, 59 percent of those who recovered, got to the point that they could obey commands and instructions from doctors and family.

"It is an extraordinarily difficult experience for any family to be confronted with a member suffering acute brain injury, alive but with their faculties so damaged that they may seem beyond awareness," Laureys said.

"The data emerging from this study clearly demonstrate however that around a quarter of patients in an acute vegetative state when they are first admitted to hospital have a good chance of recovering a significant proportion of their faculties, and up to a half will regain some level of consciousness," he added.

Laureys said the chances of age, with younger patients usually having a better prognosis.

Meanwhile, the research team found that around 40% of patients were wrongly diagnosed as in a vegetative state, when they in fact registered the awareness levels of minimal consciousness.

In those patients health workers had diagnosed as in a minimally conscious state, 10% were actually communicating functionally.

"The study showed how very hard it is to disentangle the minimally conscious state from the vegetative state" he said.