What is brain hypoxia?

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Brain hypoxia occurs if the brain does not receive enough oxygen. This can occur while drowning, suffocation, choking or in cardiac arrest. Other possible causes include carbon monoxide poisoning and damage to the brain. The condition is considered serious since the brain cells require constant flow of oxygen to function properly.

What are the causes?

There are various medical conditions and scenarios that disrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain. Cardiac arrest, stroke and an erratic heartbeat can prevent oxygen and nutrients from moving to the brain.

Other possible causes of oxygen reduction include:

  • Choking
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
    Brain hypoxia necessitates prompt treatment to reinstate the flow of oxygen to the brain.
  • Brain injury
  • Anesthesia complications during surgery
  • Drowning
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Inhaling carbon monoxide
  • Strangulation
  • Travelling to high altitudes
  • Medical conditions that causes difficulty breathing such as severe asthma attacks

Who are at risk?

Anyone who experiences an event where there is not enough oxygen is at risk for brain hypoxia. In case a job or activity involve situations that deprives the body of oxygen, the risk is higher.

Hobbies and sports

Engaging in sports where head injuries are common such as football and boxing puts one at risk for brain hypoxia. Divers and swimmers who hold their breath for long periods are also at risk. Even mountain climbers are at risk as well.

Medical conditions

One is at risk if he/she has a medical condition that limits the transfer of oxygen to the brain such as:

  • Asthma
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Hypotension

Indications of brain hypoxia

It is important to note that symptoms of brain hypoxia range from mild to severe.

Mild symptoms

  • Brief memory loss
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Diminished ability to move the body
  • Difficulty making sound decisions

Severe symptoms

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Absence of breathing
  • Brain death


Brain hypoxia necessitates prompt treatment to reinstate the flow of oxygen to the brain. The length of treatment is based on the cause and severity of the condition. For mild cases due to mountain climbing, moving to a lower altitude level is enough. As for severe cases, emergency care is required which involves a ventilator.

The heart might require support as well. The individual might be given blood products and even fluids intravenously.

Medications for blood pressure issues might also be given or those that control the heart rate. In some cases, seizure medications or anesthetics might be part of the treatment.

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