Someone who is unconscious is not sleeping. Rather, an unconscious person is hard to rouse or can't be made aware of his or her surroundings. Unconsciousness is caused by illness, injury or emotional shock.

Signs and Symptoms

There are many levels of unconsciousness. Some are more serious than others. Levels include unconscious episodes that are:

Causes of Unconsciousness
  • Head Injury
  • Skull Fracture
  • Asphyxia
  • Fainting
  • Concussion
  • Compression
  • Extremes of Body Temperature
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Blood Loss
  • Cerebrovascular Accident
  • Epileptic Fits
  • Infantile Convulsions
  • Hysteria
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Hyperglycaemia
  • Drug Overdose
  • Hypothermia
  • Poisonous Substances and Fumes
Management of The Unconscious Patient

An unconscious patient is unable to give an account of what has happened to them. Try and gain as much history from those at the scene and from any injuries sustained as to what may of happened.

Primary Survey

Rectify any problems encountered in your primary survey before moving onto your secondary survey

Secondary Survey

Head, check:

  1. Skull for irregularity or scalp wounds
  2. Ears (blood or CSF)
  3. Eyes for pupil size and reaction (PEARL)
  4. Lips for colour (cyanosed)
  5. Jaw for displacement
  6. Mouth for loose or missing teeth or bitten tongue (Epilepsy)
  7. Skin colour, texture and temperature (Flushed, Dry and Hot) etc

Thorax, check:

  1. Clavicles for bruising and possible fractures
  2. Sternum
  3. Ribs - fractures and abnormal breathing

Abdomen, check:

  1. Rigidity and guarding
  2. Pulsating masses
  3. Bruising
  4. Pelvis fractures or abnormal movement
  5. Groin for dampness

Limbs, check:

  1. Irregularity, deformity and fractures (compare limbs with each other)
  2. Flexion and extension without aggravating any injury
  3. Signs of drug abuse (Needle marks)
  4. Identity bracelets
  5. Capillary refill and distal pulses

Back, check:

  1. Scapulae for fractures
  2. Spine for irregularities


  1. If not done so already look for any form of identity, cards or bracelets

Before moving onto each section on the secondary survey check the patients ABC's

Collate as much information as possible about the patient

  1. Allergies
  2. Medication
  3. Previous medical history (Epilepsy, Diabetes)
  4. Last meal
  5. Event - What has happened?
Vital Signs - Monitor

Treat any obvious injuries e.g. bleeding, fractures (support and immobilise)

Continue to Observe:

Note: Even though the patient may appear unresponsive it doesn't mean they can't hear you. Keep talking to the patient as hearing is the last sense lost.

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Blood Sugars

  • A good rule to adopt early on in your career is to do a blood sugar test on all patients with a reduced level of consciousness