Altered Level of Consciousness Discharge Information

What is altered level of consciousness?

Altered level of consciousness (ALOC) means that you are not as awake, alert, or able to understand or react as you are normally. ALOC can be caused by a head injury, medicines, alcohol or drugs, dehydration, or some diseases, such as diabetes.

Different levels of ALOC include:

  • Lethargic, which means you are drowsy and less aware or less interested in your surroundings.
  • Somnolent, which means you are sleeping unless someone or something wakes you up. You can usually talk and follow directions, but you may have trouble staying awake.
  • Stupor, which means you are in a deep sleep unless something loud or painful wakes you up. You may not be able to talk or follow directions well, and you will fall back to sleep when left alone.
  • Coma, which looks as if you are asleep, but you can’t be awakened at all.
  • Confusion, which means you are easily distracted and may be slow to respond. You may not know who or where you are or the time of day or year.
  • Delirium, which means you have severe confusion and disorientation and may have delusions (belief in things that are not real) or hallucinations (sensing things that are not real). The degree of confusion may get better or worse over time.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

How long it takes to get better depends on the cause of your ALOC, your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have. Discuss with your healthcare provider the cause of your ALOC, and follow his or her advice on how to prevent it from happening again.

Any of the following factors can increase the risk of ALOC:

  • Diabetes
  • Lung diseases or infections
  • Illicit drug use
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Activities that put you at risk of injuring your head
  • Not drinking enough fluids


  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Reduce swelling in and around the brain and spinal cord
    • Control your blood sugar
  • If you are diabetic, maintain good control of your blood sugar.


  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments.
  • Keep appointments for any routine testing you may need.
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or fears you have.

Diet, Exercise, and Other Lifestyle Changes

  • Follow the treatment plan your healthcare provider prescribes.
  • Get plenty of rest while you’re recovering. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine light yellow in color, unless you are told to limit fluids.
  • If you are diabetic, consult a written diet plan and list of foods before you prepare snacks or meals. Ask your provider about the benefits of talking to a dietician about the best healthy diet for you.
  • Exercise as your provider recommends.
  • Find ways to make your life less stressful.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
  • Avoid illicit drug use.

Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:

  • Seizure or convulsion
  • Bleeding from your ears or nose
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble with muscle movements, such as swallowing, moving arms and legs

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Change in vision, such as double vision, blurred vision, or trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble staying awake or alert
  • Vomiting
  • Headache that will not go away after treatment
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Loss of memory
  • Unusual behavior

If you have any of these symptoms, do not drive yourself.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-30
Last reviewed: 2014-04-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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