Locked-In syndrome is a condition in which a patient is aware and awake, but cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of the body. It is the result of a brain stem stroke in which the ventral part of the brain stem is damaged. It results in quadriplegia and inability to speak in otherwise cognitively intact individuals. Those with Locked-In syndrome may be able to communicate with others by coding messages by blinking or moving their eyes, which are not affected by the paralysis. more...
Locked-in syndrome is also known as Cerebromedullospinal Disconnection, De-Efferented State, Pseudocoma, and ventral pontine syndrome. Unlike persistent vegetative state, in which the upper portions of the brain are damaged and the lower portions are spared, locked-in syndrome is caused by damage to specific portions of the lower brain and brainstem with no damage to the upper brain.
Patients who have Locked-In Syndrome are fully aware. They will know exactly where their arms and legs are, and unlike paralyzed patients, they can still feel sensations of pain and touch. Some patients may have the ability to move certain facial muscles. The majority of locked-in syndrome patients do not regain motor control, but several devices are available to help patients communicate.
Patients with locked-in syndrome report feeling mostly tranquil, and some report feeling a little sad. This is contrary to the panic and terror that would be expected in people who cannot move or speak. This finding indicates that emotions are due to interpretations of bodily sensations. Since those who are locked-in have no bodily feeling, the brain fails to receive feedback indicative of alarm.
Parisian journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby had a stroke in 1995, and when he awoke 20 days later he found that his body had all but stopped working: he could only control his left eyelid. By blinking his eye he dictated a word at a time and in this way he wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
This syndrome was a plot point of the CSI: NY series premiere episode "Blink."
The original version of this article contained text from the NINDS public domain pages on TBI at
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