What Are the Different Types of Hypoxia?

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  • Written By: Glyn Sinclair
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2018
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Hypoxia is a condition whereby an insufficient amount of oxygen reaches the tissues and cells of the body, even though there is sufficient blood supply. This may occur as a result of lung dysfunction, brain injury, heart disease and stroke. Hypoxia will often first affect the brain, liver and heart. Physicians typically treat hypoxia with oxygen therapy and respiratory stimulant drugs. Types of hypoxia can include hypoxia from carbon monoxide poisoning, anemia, blood clots in the lungs, and hypoventilation, such as respiratory arrest.

This condition is often characterized by an abnormal heart rate or tachycardia, confusion, and hypertension, which is abnormally high blood pressure. When the demand for oxygen at the cellular level is not met, this can also create the circumstance for hypoxia. The condition that results from total deprivation of oxygen to the tissues or organs is called anoxia. Sometimes generalized hypoxia can occur in otherwise healthy people who suffer from altitude sickness. Alternately, this phenomenon can occur during deep sea diving, as well as in those with sleep apnea, which is a condition where a person stops breathing during sleep.


Treating different types of hypoxia, such as cerebral hypoxia, which occurs when there is insufficient oxygen reaching the brain, can include mechanical ventilation and medications to control blood pressure and heart rhythm. Cerebral hypoxia can also be caused by smoke inhalation, strangulation and paralysis. Other circumstances can include cardiac arrest, drug overdose, drowning and negative complications from general anesthesia during surgery. This type of hypoxia can begin to set in as quickly as five minutes after oxygen ceases to flow. This can lead to irreparable brain damage and ultimately death.

Severe hypoxia can cause seizures, priapism, which is a persistent and painful erection of the penis not connected to sexual arousal, and even coma to occur. It can also result in cyanosis, which is when the skin takes on a blue tint in color due to the lack of oxygen in the blood. Other symptoms that arise from the different types of hypoxia can include uncoordinated body movements, reduced judgment and cessation of breathing.

Further types of hypoxia can include histotoxic hypoxia, where the cells are unable to take up the blood from the bloodstream; methemoglobinemia, in which there is a higher level of methemoglobin, or blood pigment in the blood; and ischemic hypoxia, whereby the flow of oxygenated blood is restricted to a localized area. These areas can include the brain, heart and the uterus.



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