Brain hypoxia is when the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. This
can occur when someone is drowning, choking, suffocating, or in cardiac arrest.
Brain injury and carbon monoxide poisoning are other possible causes of brain
hypoxia. The condition can be serious because brain cells need an uninterrupted
flow of oxygen to function properly.
Causes Brain Hypoxia?
There are many medical conditions and events that interrupt the
flow of oxygen to your brain. Stroke, cardiac arrest, and an irregular
heartbeat can prevent oxygen and nutrients from traveling to the brain.
Other possible causes of oxygen depletion include:
- hypotension, which is extremely low blood
- anesthesia complications during surgery
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- breathing in carbon monoxide or smoke
- traveling to high altitudes (above 8,000 feet)
- brain injury
- medical conditions that make it difficult to
breathe, such as extreme asthma attacks
Is at Risk for Brain Hypoxia?
Anyone who experiences an event where they aren’t getting enough
oxygen is at risk for brain hypoxia. If your job or regular activities involve
situations that deprive you of oxygen, your risk is greater.
Sports and Hobbies
Participating in sports where head injuries are common, such as
boxing and football, also puts you at risk for brain hypoxia. Swimmers and
divers who hold their breaths for long periods of time are also susceptible.
Mountain climbers are at risk as well.
You’re at risk if you have a medical condition that limits the
transfer of oxygen to your brain. These conditions include:
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is a
degenerative disease affecting the nerves in the brain and spinal cord
Are the Symptoms of Brain Hypoxia?
Brain hypoxia symptoms range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms
- temporary memory loss
- reduced ability to move your body
- difficulty paying attention
- difficulty making sound decisions
Severe symptoms include:
- not breathing
- brain death
Is Brain Hypoxia Diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose brain hypoxia by examining your
symptoms, recent activities, and medical history. A physical exam and tests are
usually part of the process. The tests may include:
- a blood test that shows the amount of oxygen in
- an MRI scan, which shows detailed images of your
- a CT scan, which provides a 3-D image of your
- an echocardiogram, which provides an image of
- an electrocardiogram, which measure your heart’s
- an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures
the electrical activity of your brain and pinpoints seizures
- a brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER)
test, which shows how your brain reacts to sounds
Is Brain Hypoxia Treated?
Brain hypoxia requires immediate treatment to restore the flow of
oxygen to your brain.
The exact course of treatment depends on the cause and severity
of your condition. For a mild case caused by mountain climbing, for example,
you would immediately return to a lower altitude. In more severe cases, you
need emergency care that places you on a ventilator (breathing machine).
Your heart may need support as well. You might receive blood
products and possibly fluids through an intravenous tube.
Seeking immediate treatment reduces your chances of brain damage.
You may also receive medication for blood pressure issues or to
control your heart rate. Seizure-curbing medicines or anesthetics may also be
part of your treatment.
and Long-Term Outlook
Recovering from brain hypoxia depends largely on how long your
brain has gone without oxygen. Depending on the severity of your condition,
your may have recovery challenges that eventually resolve. The potential
- muscle spasms
Patients whose brain oxygen levels have been low for longer than 8
hours usually have a poorer prognosis. For this reason, people with severe head
injuries are usually monitored in the hospital immediately after injury to make
sure their brains are getting enough oxygen.
You Prevent Brain Hypoxia?
You can prevent brain hypoxia by monitoring certain health
conditions. See a doctor if your blood pressure is too low, and keep your
inhaler nearby at all times if you are asthmatic. Avoid high altitudes if you
are susceptible to altitude sickness. For people unexpectedly deprived of
oxygen, such as during a fire, immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
helps to prevent the condition from getting worse.