Hypoxia means ‘deficient in oxygen.’ It is a serious medical condition, as the brain demands an uninterrupted flow of oxygen to be healthy and to function properly. When deprived of oxygen brain cells die off at an alarming rate. Tissue hypoxia is failure of oxygen to reach a specific area of the body, while generalized hypoxia is an inadequate supply to the whole body.
Oxygen metabolizes glucose which is the body’s cellular energy source. The brain requires energy to send electrochemical stimulation to the cells and to facilitate the ability of neurons to receive and respond to impulses. If oxygen is unavailable vital chemical interactions cannot occur.
Hypoxia affects healthy people under certain circumstances. Altitude sickness is generalized hypoxia. Untreated it can lead to fatal complications such as high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema. Symptoms of altitude sickness may include insomnia, headaches, nausea or vomiting.
Athletics preparing for competition at high altitude venues intentionally employ mild and non-damaging intermittent hypoxia techniques to adapt to lower oxygen levels found at higher altitude levels.
Scuba diving may cause hypoxia in healthy individuals. Low oxygen levels of the mixture of gasses used in the rebreather system may be the culprit.
Latent hypoxia or shallow water blackout is loss of consciousness caused by oxygen starvation after a breath holding dive. In latent hypoxia oxygen starved lungs literally extract oxygen from the diver’s blood. Shallow water blackout often results in drowning.
Scuba diving where the surface is more than a thousand feet above sea level is called altitude diving. Divers may experience hypoxia during these dives because air pressure decreases in deeper water and less oxygen is available to the diver.
Common symptoms of hypoxia include memory loss and confusion. A reduction in the ability to remain alert may lead to loss of consciousness or fainting. Hypoxia can lead to coma. A coma is a prolonged, deep state of unconsciousness.
Common causes of hypoxial injuries are electrocution, severe asthma attacks, a drug overdose or poisoning, epileptic seizures, and severe blood loss. Cardiac or pulmonary diseases also trigger hypoxial injury.
Oxygen deprivation to the brain causes cerebral hypoxial injuries. Cardiac arrest, suffocation, strangling, head trauma, general anesthesia complications, carbon monoxide poisoning or a near-drowning are often responsible for cerebral hypoxial injuries. A suicide attempt or a severe head wound may also be the origin of injury.
Constriction of the blood supply by a blocked blood vessel may cause sudden cardiac arrest or an ischemic stroke. The most common type of stroke, an ischemic stroke, occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel and cuts off oxygen to an area of the brain. A stroke may be fatal or leave the individual with mild to severe deficits of physical, psychological, and cognitive skills.
Common residual effects of cerebral hypoxial injury might include an inability to perform routine tasks. The ability to tie shoelaces or use eating utensils may be lost. Hand tremors, jerky movements or weakness of the arms and legs may affect movement. Problems with speech or understanding words can occur.
Double vision or partial vision may be a result of hypoxia. Following an incident of hypoxial injury the individual may become verbally or physically aggressive. Compromised reasoning and judgment skills may become apparent. Personality changes might be noted.
Initial treatment for hypoxial injury is the immediate remedy of the cause of the loss of oxygen. Surgical intervention may be required to reinstate an adequate airway. Once the critical care period is completed recovery moves on to the rehabilitation period.
Remediation of the physiological and psychological effects from cerebral hypoxia injury is limited. Recovery is often costly and complicated. Treatment may require long-term rehabilitation and continuing medical attention. Recovery from an injury can occur, but the extent of recovery is dependent on the severity of oxygen deprivation. The degree and speed of recovery is contingent upon the regions of the brain involved and the extent of the damage.