Statistics show that there are currently close to 300,000 people here in the U.S. who can be classified as comatose after suffering some type of severe brain injury in a motor vehicle accident or fall, or as a result of a violent act or some other sort of trauma.
Sadly, the prognosis for many of these patients is usually unfavorable, as up to a third of people who suffered a severe brain injury ultimately succumb to their condition, while the remainder may be stuck in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.
While considerable advancements have been made over the last few decades in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries for non-comatose patients, there are decidedly few treatment options to help improve or hasten recovery for comatose patients with TBIs.
Interestingly enough, researchers are now intrigued by the possibilities offered by a prescription medication found in homes throughout Tennessee and across the nation.
The prescription medication in question is Ambien, a sleeping pill that is essentially designed to lower brain activity in the patient, which in turn allows them to drift off.
For reasons that remain unclear, some physicians have found that Ambien or zolpidem, the active ingredient in the drug, can actually lift some brain trauma patients out of their comas, a condition referred to as "Ambien Awakenings."
Experts caution, however, that Ambien Awakenings are far from a cure, as the treatment only works on one out of every 15 patients, and that even when it does work, the patient is awake and alert for only a few hours before falling back into their coma until the next dose can be safely administered.
"It's rare, it's not something that works all the time, but from my standpoint, it's worth a try, especially for these patients where nothing else has worked," Grafton said.
Unfortunately, experts also indicate that the financial incentive might not yet be there for drug companies to explore the issue, as Ambien now has generic options available. Nevertheless, they do encourage people in these situations to at least broach this topic with their loved one's provider.
Here's hoping that researchers make that long-awaited breakthrough that patients and their families need sooner than later ...
If you or a loved one have suffered a serious brain injury due to the recklessness or negligence of another, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can fight to secure the peace of mind and security that you will need moving forward.
Source: WBRC, "Could Ambien unlock mystery to treating brain trauma patients?" May 12, 2014