Coverage of Coma in Headlines of US Newspapers From 2001 Through 2005

Wijdicks, Eelco F. M.; Wijdicks, Marilou F.
October 2006
Mayo Clinic Proceedings;Oct2006, Vol. 81 Issue 10, p1332
Academic Journal
OBJECTIVE: To review journalists' preferences and accuracy in reporting comatose states. METHODS: Using the Lexis-Nexis database, we selected newspaper headlines from January 1, 2001, through December 31, 2005, that included the words coma, comatose, unconsciousness, vegetative state, awakening, and brain dead. RESULTS: We identified 340 stories by headlines. The median age of persons in coma was 26 years. Coma cases in men were twice as common as those in women. In 71% of coma cases, the cause of coma was associated with motor vehicle crashes or violence. Persistent vegetative state was reported in 25 articles (7%), frequently when a family or physician conflict emerged. In 33 stories (10%), coma was medically induced but not mentioned in the headline. Three ‘miracle’ recoveries involved resumption of speech in patients in a minimally conscious state. CONCLUSION: Few news reports had gross inaccuracies or misrepresentations; however, definitional difficulties of unconscious states with the reporters remain. The reporting of coma may be biased toward violence and trauma. Medically induced coma was present in 1 of 10 reports but rarely mentioned in the headline.


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