What Is the Connection between Oxygen and Hypoxia?

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  • Written By: Andy Josiah
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2018
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The lack or insufficient supply of oxygen is linked with the development of hypoxia. Cells need oxygen to adequately or optimally function. Thus, when oxygen supply does not meet cellular demand, hypoxia can develop. The condition is also known as altitude sickness, since it generates some symptoms indicative of being at high altitudes during activities such as mountain climbing.

The connection between oxygen and hypoxia is split into two broad categories. In generalized hypoxia, the sickness affects the entire body. This is the type of hypoxia that commonly afflicts mountain climbers, who encounter lower oxygen concentration and reduced air pressure the higher they climb. Other causes include poor pulmonary ventilation or sleep apnea. Tissue hypoxia, on the other hand, is restricted to a certain area of the body.

In most cases, the blood flow is a determining factor of how strong the connection between oxygen and hypoxia is. For instance, stagnant hypoxia, or ischemic hypoxia, concerns the lack of oxygen due to the reduction of blood flow, while with hypoxic hypoxia, the blood flow is fine, but not enough oxygen is reaching it. With anemic hypoxia, hemoglobin deficiency or defects decreases the blood’s capability to carry oxygen. A few types of the condition do not involve the blood as a factor at all. For example, cerebral hypoxia merely denotes hypoxia characterized by lack of sufficient oxygen to the brain.


The most common result of the link between oxygen and hypoxia is shortness of breath. Other signs include appetite loss, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting. In the more severe cases, skin discoloration, cardiac arrest or arrhythmia, seizures, or low blood pressure may occur. There is also the possibility of anoxia. This is considered worse than hypoxia, since it denotes a complete decrease of oxygen.

The body usually responds defensively to hypoxia. Most tissues, when faced with this condition, rely on vasodilation, which means that the blood vessels widen to increase the body’s blood flow. Other areas of the body, particularly the lungs, react in the total opposite fashion with vasoconstriction. By narrowing the blood vessels, it prevents the occurrence of internal bleeding or blood loss.

A mechanical supply of oxygen is typically the best way to alter the link between oxygen and hypoxia. This can be accomplished by using oxygen concentrators. Hypoxia can also be prevented by avoiding high altitudes, as well as adhering to healthy eating habits and drinking a reasonable amount of fluids.



Discuss this Article

Post 3

@bear78-- I think that basically any issue that limits or prevents the delivery of oxygen to all of our cells can cause hypoxia. There are of course different causes. But the effects are mostly the same or similar. Confusion, dizziness, headaches, nausea and sometimes even numbness can occur.

Pilots are actually trained in the symptoms of hypoxia and know what to do when it occurs. Since they are moving between different altitudes very quickly, hypoxia is a big risk for them.

Post 2

This is a great article, very explanatory. I thought that hypoxia always resulted from difficulty breathing. I didn't realize that issues with blood cells or circulation could lead to hypoxia.

Post 1

I experienced mild hypoxia when I went to a ski resort. I had an awful headache my entire time there and I was also dizzy from time to time. There was a doctor who gave me oxygen which made me feel better. I had to cut the trip short and return home. Others in my group were not as affected as I was. I don't know why.

It made me understand how important oxygen is though. When people think about the mountains, they usually talk about that fresh mountain air. But that fresh mountain air has less oxygen!

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