Woman is given a breathing mask by her doctor in a hospital bed.

What is Hypoxia? Causes, Dangers, and Comparisons

Hypoxia is a dangerous condition that can happen to any person and is associated with many different causes and dangers.

The human brain is a marvelous instrument capable of astounding feats. However, it is also a highly sensitive organ that can be damaged through many different causes. Aside from more commonly-known types of brain injuries, such as concussions or traumatic brain injury (TBI), a lack of oxygen can lead to serious and even permanent brain damage. In medical parlance, this condition is referred to as “hypoxia,” also known as oxygen deprivation. 

Brain Injury Association of America logo

If you’ve suffered an oxygen deprivation injury due to someone else’s negligence or medical malpractice, contact the Brain Injury Law Center at (757) 244-7000 to discuss your options. Compensation may be available to help you recover and move forward with dignified care.

What Is Hypoxia?

The term “hypoxia” refers to a state or condition where the tissues are not adequately oxygenated. This is usually due to an insufficient amount of oxygen in the blood. Nearly all body cells need oxygen to perform their biological functions. 

In particular, the brain needs an oxygen-rich blood supply in order to continue directing the body’s processes. Without oxygen, a person may lose consciousness, and critical systems may begin to shut down. This can place the person at an extremely high risk of further injury, depending on what they are doing at the time. 

What Causes Hypoxia?

Several different causes, factors, illnesses, and injuries can cause hypoxia. These may include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning 
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Heart attack, stroke, or other heart illnesses
  • Severe asthma
  • Choking
  • Low blood pressure
  • Allergies
  • Strangulation or smothering
  • Hyperventilation
  • Improper sleep positions (especially in infants)
  • Alcohol may cause lower oxygen levels

In particular, strangulation or smothering is a common cause of hypoxia. For instance, many of the chokeholds practiced in mixed martial arts or jiu-jitsu can create conditions of hypoxia. These may be highly dangerous if practiced in an uncontrolled or unregulated manner. Such chokeholds are also often employed by law enforcement; many police brutality cases involve hypoxia-related injuries. 

Note that relatively healthy persons can suffer from hypoxia, such as when a person travels to higher altitudes during hiking. Hypoxic brain injuries can also occur in activities like deep-sea diving or scuba diving.

What Are the Dangers Associated With Hypoxia?

One of the main dangers associated with hypoxia is that the person will typically lose consciousness. This may then place the person in danger of severe harm, especially if they are driving, hiking, scuba diving, or performing other high-risk activities. 

Besides this, long-term, permanent brain damage can occur, as well as localized damage to other organs or the limbs. Certain functions like speech and motor skills may be affected permanently. 

Woman in blue long sleeve shirt in living room holding chest and gasping for air

Choking is commonly linked to hypoxia.

The timeline from initial hypoxia to brain damage or death depends on the level of oxygen deprivation. Minor hypoxia may cause damage over time, but deep levels of hypoxia can result in near-instantaneous brain damage — sometimes within a minute or two. 

After five minutes without oxygen, brain cell death begins to occur, and severe brain damage may accompany it as well. Death typically occurs within 10 minutes of complete deprivation, and other conditions may be present as well (such as a heart attack in response to the hypoxia).

If you or your loved one have suffered an oxygen deprivation injury and need legal advice, contact our attorneys at the Brain Injury Law Center by calling (757) 244-7000 for a free consultation regarding your options.

What is Anoxia? What Are the Differences Between Anoxia vs. Hypoxia?

The terms “hypoxia” and “anoxia” are often used interchangeably to describe a state of oxygen deprivation. However, there are differences between these words. Specifically, anoxia refers to conditions where there is a complete absence of oxygen supply to an organ’s tissues. In comparison, hypoxia refers to decreased levels of oxygen. 

Both hypoxia and anoxia may be remedied through measures such as oxygenating the victim with an oxygen mask. Symptoms may also be similar, which can include:

  • Confusion or change in mood or personality
  • Loss of color in the face or lips
  • Tingling sensation in the extremities
  • Not breathing or not expelling air
  • Loss of consciousness, fainting, or seizures

However,  a true anoxia state can be much more dangerous. Anoxic brain injury is typically seen as more serious, as it involves a complete or nearly complete absence of oxygen. These types of cases can be fatal and require immediate medical attention.

What Is Ischemia vs. Hypoxia?

Ischemia and hypoxia are related concepts but refer to different conditions in the body.

Ischemia is a condition characterized by reduced blood supply to a part of the body, leading to decreased oxygen and nutrient delivery to the tissues. This can occur due to various reasons, such as blockage of blood vessels (e.g., due to atherosclerosis or blood clots), decreased blood flow (e.g., due to heart failure or shock), or other factors that impede adequate blood circulation to a specific area. Ischemia can affect organs like the heart (leading to a heart attack), brain (causing a stroke), or limbs (resulting in peripheral artery disease).

Hypoxia, on the other hand, refers to a state of reduced oxygen supply to the body’s tissues or organs. It can occur due to various reasons, including respiratory conditions that impair oxygen intake (like asthma, pneumonia, or lung diseases), cardiovascular issues that limit oxygen delivery (such as heart failure or shock), or environmental factors like high altitudes with low oxygen levels. Hypoxia can lead to cell damage and dysfunction if not promptly addressed, as cells require oxygen to carry out essential metabolic processes.

In summary, ischemia is specifically about reduced blood supply, while hypoxia is about reduced oxygen levels, although they often occur together in clinical conditions and can exacerbate each other’s effects.

The Difference Between Hypoxia and Ischemia

The key difference is that hypoxia is about reduced oxygen levels in the body’s tissues, while ischemia is about reduced blood supply to a specific part of the body. However, these conditions often occur together and can exacerbate each other’s effects, leading to more severe tissue damage if left untreated.

Hypoxia and ischemia are closely related but distinct medical conditions.

Hypoxia refers to a state in which there is a reduced level of oxygen in the body’s tissues and can lead to cell damage and dysfunction if not corrected promptly, as cells rely on oxygen to carry out essential metabolic processes.

Ischemia specifically refers to a reduction in blood supply to a particular part of the body. This reduced blood flow means that the affected tissues receive less oxygen and nutrients than they require. Ischemia can lead to tissue damage or cell death if not resolved promptly, as tissues need a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly.

What Is Hypoxic-Ischemic Brain Injury?

Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury (HIBI), also known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), is a condition that results from a combination of reduced oxygen supply (hypoxia) and decreased blood flow (ischemia) to the brain. 

The effects of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury can vary widely depending on the severity of the injury, the duration of oxygen deprivation, and the specific brain regions affected. In mild cases, there may be temporary cognitive or motor deficits that improve over time with rehabilitation. However, in severe cases, HIBI can lead to permanent brain damage, cognitive impairments, motor disabilities, seizures, and other neurological complications.

Treatment for hypoxic-ischemic brain injury often involves supportive care, such as ensuring adequate oxygenation, managing blood pressure, and addressing any underlying medical conditions. In some cases, therapeutic hypothermia (cooling the body temperature) may be used to reduce brain damage and improve outcomes, especially in newborns with perinatal HIE. Rehabilitation therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, play a crucial role in helping individuals with HIBI regain function and improve their quality of life.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Causing a Hypoxic Brain Injury?

Hypoxic brain injuries can be severe and may completely alter a victim’s life. They may lose the ability to perform basic functions, which can affect their ability to work and earn a living. It can also cause them a loss of enjoyment of life and can place a strain on relationships and family life.

Many cases of hypoxia injuries may be attributed to the negligence of another person. For instance, heart surgery complications can lead to hypoxic brain injuries. In such cases, a negligent doctor or other medical professional may be held liable for the resulting damages. Birth injuries involving hypoxia or anoxia are another common medical malpractice claim. 

As mentioned, hypoxia can also result from physical attacks, especially those involving choking or strangulation. This can also lead to legal liability for resulting injuries. 

Damages in these types of claims can cover a wide range of losses, including hospital bills, lost wages, loss of the ability to generate income, pain and suffering, and other costs.

Hiring a Lawyer for Help With a Hypoxia Injury Lawsuit

Hypoxia and anoxia injuries can be serious and even life-threatening. They can affect one’s ability to perform everyday tasks, although in many cases, they can be prevented through proper care. If you or a loved one have suffered a hypoxic injury due to another person’s negligence, you may be entitled to legal recovery.

The attorneys at The Brain Injury Law Center have decades of experience dealing with hypoxia and other highly technical brain injury cases. It is our goal to ensure that our clients obtain the justice they deserve for their losses. 

We understand the struggles you may be experiencing and can guide you at each step of the way. Contact us today at (757) 244-7000 for a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your hypoxia case. You can rest assured that we will fight for your legal rights.

Related Resources

If you found this content helpful, please view the related topics below:

Contact us if you have specific questions on the matter or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation.

Contact Us

Free Case Review

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Brain Injury Lawyer