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Hypoxia and Anoxia


What happens to the human body when it lacks oxygen?

Hypoxic-anoxic damage occurs when your body is injured by a lack of oxygen. Hypoxia happens when the body isn’t receiving adequate oxygen levels to maintain normal function. Anoxia is a state when your body or brain’s oxygen supply is completely lost. 

These states can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of these include:

  1. Carbon monoxide and other poisonings.
  2.  Trauma that results in considerable blood loss.
  3.  Respiratory  problems including asthma or pneumonia that reduce oxygen delivery.
  4. Poor blood supply to the organs, as a result of a stroke or a cardiac disease.
  5. Near-drowning or choking  traumas that  block the airways and impede respiration.
  6. High altitudes where oxygen is scarce.  

When hypoxia becomes anoxia, the parts of your body that require oxygen to function normally may stop operating.  The immediate impacts of anoxia are to  your brain, heart, kidneys and other bodily tissues.

Anoxia is especially harmful to the brain. Your brain can be permanently damaged after four to five minutes without oxygen. Brain cells die without adequate oxygen, and many of the tasks that your brain regulates will be impacted. The longer your brain is deprived of oxygen, the more likely you are to suffer long-term consequences. 

What can cause Anoxia? 

Types and causes:

  • Toxic anoxia

Toxic anoxia is a condition that happens when you consume poisons or other pollutants. This makes it difficult for your blood to adequately transport oxygen throughout your body.

The most common cause of toxic anoxia is carbon monoxide poisoning. When wood or natural gas are burned, carbon monoxide is created. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be caused by a malfunctioning gas stove, fireplace, or furnace. Additionally, gasoline and diesel fuels that are used to power cars, trucks and planes  produce exhaust fumes high in carbon monoxide.

  • Anemic anoxia

When your blood is unable to carry enough oxygen around your body to keep your organs working properly, you develop anemic anoxia. Hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in your blood, is responsible for delivering oxygen to your organs and tissues. Your overall oxygen supply falls when your blood lacks hemoglobin or when hemoglobin is inefficient.

  • Anoxic anoxia

Anoxic anoxia happens when there isn’t enough oxygen in the air. It is impossible to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream if there isn’t adequate oxygen in the air you breathe. When you’re at a high altitude, you can develop anoxic anoxia. Many of its symptoms are common in people who suffer from altitude sickness. This problem can also occur during activities like hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, and snowboarding.

Anything that prevents your heart and lungs from performing properly and limits your body’s oxygen supply can also lead to anoxic anoxia (ex. choking, suffocation, near drowning, breathing problems like asthma, pneumonia, or COPD and drug use)

 Symptoms and signs 

Anoxia’s symptoms are not always visible at first. Your brain can function for a few minutes without oxygen before any symptoms develop. Additionally, symptoms are often delayed, taking days or weeks to show. Some of the initial signs that your body has gone without oxygen for over 40 seconds and less than 3 minutes are:

  1. Changes in mood and personality
  2. Loss of memory
  3. Difficulties walking or moving your arms or legs
  4. Slurred speech or lost words 
  5. Symptoms of weakness, dizziness, or unusual headaches.
  6. Inability to concentrate

If your brain has been without oxygen for more than four or five minutes, the symptoms are more serious and severe. These include :

  1. Seizures
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Passing out or suddenly losing consciousness

Diagnosis, treatment and help

A range of tests may be performed by your doctor to determine whether any symptoms you’re experiencing are due to hypoxia or anoxia. Imaging, blood and neurological tests yield important information regarding the origin and effects of hypoxia and anoxia.

These tests include:

  1. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)  provides highly detailed images of your brain.
  2. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are used to determine how your brain reacts and performs during specific activities.
  3. Computed tomography (CT) scans show a bird’s eye view of your head
  4. Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests your electrical brain activity

Treatment is determined by how long your brain or other bodily parts have been without oxygen.

Certain physical and mental functions can be weakened if your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen for a few minutes or longer. In most circumstances, your doctor will try to restore normal oxygen levels in your body and brain. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and sometimes ventilators are used to ensure that you are getting an adequate oxygen supply.

Certain symptoms, such as seizures, may be treated by your doctor so that they do not hinder your rehabilitation. If you obtain prompt treatment after losing oxygen, you may have fewer long-term consequences or problems. If your anoxia was a result of a cardiac event or a heart issue, your doctor will treat the initial problems and send you to a heart specialist for further treatment.

The takeaway 

Long-term damage can result from hypoxic-anoxic brain injuries. The sooner you notice the symptoms of hypoxia and anoxia and seek treatment, the more likely you are to recover from the harm or complications of oxygen deprivation.

It’s possible that your abilities may never be entirely restored to their previous state. However, there are a variety of therapeutic and supportive treatments available to help you manage your daily life following an anoxic injury. It’s important to talk to your doctor to help you understand your situation and the potential resources for rehabilitation.

The purpose of both treatment and rehabilitation is to help you attain the maximum possible quality of life. Both rehab and therapy are crucial and necessary tools that will help you live a full, active, and healthy life. Patience is a necessary ingredient as you must stick to your treatment plan.