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J Med Life. 2012 Feb 22;5(1):3-15. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

The vegetative state--a syndrome in search of a name.

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Medical Faculty University Muenster, Cerebprotect Foerderverein für Frührehabilitation eV, 48155 Muenster, Germany.


In 2002, Bryan Jennett chose the caption "A syndrome in search of a name" for the first chapter of his book "The vegetative state--medical facts, ethical and legal dilemmas", which, in summary, can be taken as his legacy. Jennett coined the term "VegetativeState" (VS), which became the preferential name for the syndrome of wakeful unresponsiveness in the English literature, with the intention to specify the concern and dilemmas in connection with the naming "vegetative", "persistent" and "permanent". In Europe, Apallic Syndrome (AS) is still in use. The prevalence of VS/AS in hospital settings in Europe is 0.5-2/100.000 population year; one-third traumatic brain damage, 70% following intracranial haemorrhages, tumours, cerebral hypoxemia after cardiac arrest, and end stage of certain progressive neurological diseases. VS/AS reflects brain pathology of (a) consciousness, self-awareness, (b) behaviour, and (c) certain brain structures, so that patients are awake but total unresponsive. The ambiguity of the naming "vegetative" (meant to refer to the preserved vegetative (autonomous nervous system) can suggest that the patient is no more a human but "vegetable" like. And "apallic" does not mean being definitively and completely anatomically disconnected from neocortical structures. In 2009, having joined the International Task Force on the Vegetative State, we proposed the new term "Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome" (UWS) to enable (neuro-)scientists, the medical community, and the public to assess and define all stages accurately in a human way. The Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome (UWS) could replace the VS/AS nomenclature in science and public with social competence.


Apallic syndrome; neurobehavioral disturbances; severe brain damage; unresponsive wakefulness syndrome

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