Journal of Neurology

, Volume 265, Issue 4, pp 954–961 | Cite as

Is oral feeding compatible with an unresponsive wakefulness syndrome?

  • Evelyne MélotteEmail author
  • Audrey Maudoux
  • Sabrina Delhalle
  • Charlotte Martial
  • Georgios Antonopoulos
  • Stephen Karl Larroque
  • Sarah Wannez
  • Marie-Elisabeth Faymonville
  • Jean-François Kaux
  • Steven Laureys
  • Olivia Gosseries
  • Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse
Original Communication



The aim of the study is to explore the possibility of oral feeding in unresponsive wakefulness syndrome/vegetative state (UWS/VS) patients.


We reviewed the clinical information of 68 UWS/VS patients (mean age 45 ± 11; range 16–79 years) searching for mention of oral feeding. UWS/VS diagnosis was made after repeated behavioural assessments using the Coma Recovery Scale—Revised. Patients also had complementary neuroimaging evaluations (positron emission tomography, functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography and diffusion tensor imaging).


Out of the 68 UWS/VS patients, only two could resume oral feeding (3%). The first patient had oral feeding (only liquid and semi liquid) in addition to gastrostomy feeding and the second one could achieve full oral feeding (liquid and mixed solid food). Clinical assessments concluded that they fulfilled the criteria for a diagnosis of UWS/VS. Results from neuroimaging and neurophysiology were typical for the first patient with regard to the diagnosis of UWS/VS but atypical for the second patient.


Oral feeding that implies a full and complex oral phase could probably be considered as a sign of consciousness. However, we actually do not know which components are necessary to consider the swallowing conscious as compared to reflex. We also discussed the importance of swallowing assessment and management in all patients with altered state of consciousness.


Swallowing Dysphagia Oral-feeding Consciousness Unresponsive wakefulness syndrome 



The study was supported by the University and University Hospital of Liège, the French Speaking Community Concerted Research Action (ARC 12-17/01), the Belgian National Funds for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS), Human Brain Project (EU-H2020-fetflagship-hbp-sga1-ga720270), Luminous project (EU-H2020-fetopen-ga686764), the Wallonie-Bruxelles International, the James McDonnell Foundation, Mind Science Foundation, IAP research network P7/06 of the Belgian Government (Belgian Science Policy), the European Commission, the Public Utility Foundation ‘Université Européenne du Travail’, “Fondazione Europea di Ricerca Biomedica”, the Bial Foundation, Belgian National Plan Cancer (139). OG and AM are post-doctoral fellows, and SL is research director at FRS-FNRS. We thank Pr Pierre Maquet from the Neurology department, University Hospital of Liège, as well as the whole Neurology staff, patients, and their families.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Medical School of the University of Liège and written consents were obtained from the legal representative of each patient.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evelyne Mélotte
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Audrey Maudoux
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sabrina Delhalle
    • 3
  • Charlotte Martial
    • 2
  • Georgios Antonopoulos
    • 2
  • Stephen Karl Larroque
    • 2
  • Sarah Wannez
    • 2
  • Marie-Elisabeth Faymonville
    • 4
  • Jean-François Kaux
    • 1
  • Steven Laureys
    • 2
  • Olivia Gosseries
    • 2
  • Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine DepartmentUniversity Hospital of LiegeLiègeBelgium
  2. 2.GIGA Consciousness, Coma Science Group and Neurology DepartmentUniversity and University Hospital of LiegeLiègeBelgium
  3. 3.Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery DepartmentUniversity and University Hospital of LiegeLiègeBelgium
  4. 4.Hypnosis and Pain GIGA Center and Algology and Palliative Care DepartmentUniversity and University Hospital of LiegeLiègeBelgium

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