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What is a Hypoxic Brain Injury?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hypoxic brain injury, also known as cerebral hypoxia, is a medical condition characterized by a decrease in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain. There are several potential causes of hypoxic brain injury, including head trauma, respiratory blockages caused by choking or strangling, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Mild cases of hypoxic brain injury can create such symptoms as poor judgment, memory loss, or loss of motor functioning. More severe cases may lead to permanent brain damage or even death. Treatment for hypoxic brain injury involves life support measures such as using medical devices to help the patient breathe and maintain regulate heart function while the medical team works to find and treat the original cause for lack of oxygen to the brain.

Mild to moderate forms of hypoxic brain injury may occur from such conditions as flying at high altitudes or suffering a severe asthma attack. With prompt treatment, permanent damage to the brain is rare. It is important to note that brain cells are not able to regenerate once they have been damaged, so immediate medical care is urgently important any time a head injury or loss of oxygen is suspected.

Physical trauma is the most common as well as the most serious cause of hypoxic brain injury. Situations that lead to this condition may include strangulation, drowning, or smoke inhalation. Overdosing on prescription medications or street drugs may also lead to a loss of oxygen to the brain. Dangerous recreational games known as erotic asphyxiation or the fainting game can also lead to severe hypoxic brain injury. If medical attention is not sought immediately, death often occurs.

When cerebral hypoxia is suspected, immediate life support measures are taken. The patient is often connected to a ventilator, which will provide oxygen and help the patient to breathe. A tube known as an IV is often inserted into a vein so that blood can be drawn to test the oxygen levels in the blood and any necessary medications can be quickly delivered. Medications are often given to help regulate blood pressure and prevent seizures, which could cause further damage to the brain.

Recovery depends on the extent of damage the brain has sustained. If the person was without oxygen for only a short period of time, the chances of a complete recovery are good. If the brain was deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time and significant damage was done to the cells of the brain, permanent brain damage could occur. Even with the best of medical care, many people do not survive after suffering a severe hypoxic brain injury.

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