Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
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.
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:
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.
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:
Brain hypoxia symptoms range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include:
Severe symptoms include:
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:
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.
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 challenges include:
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 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.
Written by: Chitra Badii and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Oct 06, 2015: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, MSN, RN, CRNA
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.