What Is the Difference Between Anoxia vs. Hypoxia?

An adult human being can survive up to two months without food, several days without water, but only minutes without oxygen. Permanent brain damage can occur within 4 minutes of oxygen deprivation, and the severity of that injury depends on anoxia vs. hypoxia.

The short answer to “what is the difference between anoxia and hypoxia?” is: “anoxia” means a total lack of oxygen, while “hypoxia” refers to a partial lack of oxygen. How these conditions occur matters when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. Examples include when hospital staff fail to deliver a baby in distress, or cause an avoidable condition due to surgical error that blocks oxygen to the brain. By filing a case, injured parties are able to hold negligent actors accountable, and can access compensation that helps provide vital, life-saving medical care going forward.

If you need representation from an experienced attorney after an oxygen deprivation injury, call the Brain Injury Law Center today at (757) 244-7000. For more information on the difference between anoxia and hypoxia, read on.

Table of Contents

What Are Hypoxia and Anoxia Symptoms?
What Are Common Causes of Anoxia and Hypoxia?
What Could a Hypoxic/Anoxic Brain Injury Settlement Mean for You?
How Can You Contact a Hypoxic/Anoxic Brain Injury Lawyer?
Hypoxia vs. Anoxia FAQs

A Black woman rests at home next to afternoon tea with the aid of an oxygen inhalation mask.

What Are Hypoxia and Anoxia Symptoms?

A decrease in oxygen intake immediately affects a person’s health. Just holding your breath for thirty seconds will cause physical symptoms like lightheadedness and irregular heartbeat. More serious forms of oxygen deprivation are classified as:

  • Hypoxia: An insufficient amount of oxygen for optimal functioning. A related condition is hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels), which is sometimes used interchangeably with hypoxia.
  • Anoxia: A complete lack of oxygen, as would happen in a case of drowning or total airway blockage or closure.

Though anoxic symptoms have a rapid onset and require an emergency response (like performing the Heimlich maneuver for someone who is choking), signs of oxygen deprivation for both conditions could include:

  • Cognitive disruption: Headaches, short-term memory loss, delayed decision-making abilities, difficulty with words (anomia), and visual disturbances like blurred images or difficulty interpreting visual input.
  • Physical difficulties: Lack of coordination (ataxia), inability to perform familiar rote functions like toothbrushing (apraxia), weakness in the arms/legs (quadriparesis), and spastic/jerky movements.
  • Breathing issues: Breathing regularly but still feeling out of breath or shortness of breath.

These symptoms are serious and require immediate medical attention. Your first priority is getting that life-saving care.

However, the next section details potential negligent causes of anoxia and hypoxia. If the injuries you’ve experienced were due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important to act fast. Once you or your loved one is in a stable condition, we encourage you to secure legal counsel as soon as possible—your attorney can advise, gather important evidence, and begin your case for justice.

Contact the Brain Injury Law Center at (757) 244-7000 to discuss your circumstances—the quality of your life going forward depends on swift action today.

What Are Common Causes of Anoxia and Hypoxia?

Many causes of anoxic and hypoxic brain injury are completely preventable, as in the cases of negligent accidents like car crashes, slip-and-fall injuries, or workplace hazards.

Other significant sources of hypoxic and anoxic harm come from medical malpractice, as in instances of surgical error and birth injury. A child who isn’t delivered quickly enough, or who is damaged by defective medical devices like forceps, may suffer from a lack of oxygen in the critical moments during birth. Likewise, a patient given the wrong medication who then suffers a stroke is another instance where negligent action causes an oxygen deprivation injury.

Here is a breakdown of the different ways oxygen delivery to a person’s vital organs can be cut off or diminished:


Causes of anoxia can be internal or external, and include:

  • Anemic anoxia: When your blood lacks enough functioning hemoglobin proteins or iron to deliver the oxygen you breathe in to your vital organs.
  • Toxic anoxia: When a chemical overwhelms your blood and prevents oxygen uptake, as with carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Stagnant anoxia: AKA hypoxic ischemia, a condition in which your blood is blocked from reaching your brain and other body parts, as can happen with strokes or heart attacks.
  • Anoxic anoxia: When there is not enough oxygen in the air you’re breathing, as happens at high altitudes, or in cases of enclosed suffocation. This also occurs when the lungs are prevented from functioning, as in cases of choking, drug-induced paralysis, or medical conditions like asthma or anaphylaxis.


Causes of hypoxia are far more varied, and may not be immediately apparent. They include:

  • Lung diseases: Conditions of the lungs like emphysema, pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) can dangerously inhibit oxygen intake.
  • Drug or medication side effects: Both prescription drugs like strong pain medications and street drugs can diminish lung function, especially in cases of overdose.
  • Heart and blood diseases: An issue with the heart’s ability to pump blood, or the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, can lead to hypoxia and hypoxemia.
  • Respiratory and circulatory injuries: Damage done to the lungs, heart, and the overall cardiovascular system can hinder oxygen the oxygen supply to your brain and body

While there are certain health conditions that can cause hypoxic or anoxic injury, if those conditions are incompetantly treated by medical professionals, it becomes a matter of negligence. Similar situations are when a preventable car accident causes such injuries, or a defective oxygen-monitoring device for mountain climbers, or a lack of safety protocols around workplace occupational hazards. In these scenarios, the harm caused is considered a personal injury, and the responsible party may be held liable.

Each of these situations may be compensated through legal action. Reach out to the Brain Injury Law Center for representation.

A mother’s hand with a hospital bracelet holds the tiny hand of her sleeping newborn infant.

What Could a Hypoxic/Anoxic Brain Injury Settlement Mean for You?

For those who suffered or lost a loved one due to preventable hypoxic or anoxic brain injury, pursuing a legal case could significantly improve your future. A legal settlement or damages award could help cover:

  • Medical bills for care required to manage the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury
  • Lost income, wages, and work-related benefits like health insurance coverage
  • Pain and suffering both physical and psychological
  • Punitive damages charged to punish the negligent party, funds which may then be awarded to you
  • Wrongful death expenses for funeral costs, lost of financial support, and loss of companionship for surviving loved ones

Brain injuries are some of the most devastating and enduring conditions. The long-term changes can be overwhelming for both the injured person and their families, friends, and colleagues. In many ways, life after a TBI never again returns to the life you had before.

The economic settlement that a brain injury lawsuit can secure could mean a better health outcome for the patient. It could also mean important help for those around the injured person, so they can be there for moral support without being drained emotionally or financially.

It takes a team to recover after a traumatic brain injury, and the damages awarded for your case could help support that team.

A bald senior man in a plaid shirt places a serious phone call to a personal injury lawyer.

How Can You Contact a Hypoxic/Anoxic Brain Injury Lawyer?

A lack of oxygen does swift and often irreversible harm to the human brain, and aftercare for brain injuries requires extensive medical aid. The types of damages awarded in brain injury lawsuits vary drastically between cases. That is why it’s important to place your trust with an experienced attorney who has proven brain injury case results.

The Brain Injury Law Center was founded by Stephen M. Smith, a graduate of Marquette University’s Neuroanatomical program. His knowledge of the brain and spinal cord provided a unique skill set for his legal career, and the basis for a firm focused on the true cost of brain injuries, and what kind of compensation our clients deserve.

To contact the Brain Injury Law Center to discuss your legal options after hypoxic or anoxic injury, fill out our online form, or call us at (757) 244-7000. A fair settlement could mean a much brighter future for your family, as well as improve safety protocols so that a preventable brain injury never has to happen again.

Hypoxia vs. Anoxia FAQs

How long can a person survive without oxygen?

Irreversible brain damage is done after 4 minutes without oxygen, and full-body death can occur anywhere between 4-6 minutes after the brain begins to fail. For those who survive hypoxic or anoxic injuries, they will most likely require funds for extensive medical and rehabilitative care. For those who die due to oxygen deprivation injuries, their surviving members deserve justice and compensation for their loss.

How long does it take to recover from anoxic or hypoxic brain injury?

Anoxic and hypoxic brain injuries can range from mild to severe. Depending on how long the brain was starved of oxygen, a person may never fully recover. However, with robust medical treatment and aid, a brain injury patient can regain skills and enjoy a dignified life. A legal settlement can help afford that critical care.

How does a lawyer win an anoxic brain injury case?

Personal injury cases hinge on proving negligence, which can be summed up with the four Ds:

  • Duty: A duty of care was owed to you by your doctor, employer, or fellow citizen. An example would be an obstetrician whose duty is to help deliver babies.
  • Dereliction: A dereliction of that duty occurred, meaning there was a failure to act responsibly. If an obstetrician fails to notice an infant’s distress in utero, the baby may suffer a brain injury due to lack of oxygen.
  • Direct cause: Your lawyer will provide evidence of how the dereliction of care caused or contributed to your injuries. In the case of the obstetrician, evidence may come from nurses, heart monitor logs, and/or expert testimony that a delay in care was the cause of the injury (not some other underlying medical condition).
  • Damages: Your lawyer then describes your injuries and losses to the court in financial terms. For an infant’s brain damage, this includes a lifetime of necessary care, missed opportunities for employment and independence, and the loss of a child’s promise for the parents.

How long do I have to sue for hypoxic or anoxic brain injury?

There are filing deadlines associated with any form of personal injury. The Brain Injury Law Center is headquartered in Virginia, where car accident and medical malpractice cases have a limitation window of two years.

It’s important that you secure representation right away. Contact the Brain Injury Law Center by calling (757) 244-7000 —the quality of your life going forward depends on swift action today.

Contact Us

Free Case Review

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

Brain Injury Lawyer