Adequate oxygen is vital for the brain. Many factors can cause the brain to receive inadequate oxygen. When oxygen levels are significantly low for four minutes or longer, brain cells begin to die and after five minutes permanent anoxic brain injury can occur. Anoxic brain injury which is also called cerebral hypoxia or hypoxic-anoxic injury (HAI) is a serious, life-threatening injury; it can cause cognitive problems and disabilities. Some HAI injuries are due to a partial lack of oxygen; the term hypoxic means partial lack.
The death of brain cells interrupts the brain’s electrochemical impulses and interferes with the performance of neurotransmitters—the chemical messengers which transmit messages within the brain. The neurotransmitters regulate body functions and influence behavior.
Types of Anoxic Brain Injury
There are four types of anoxia, but each can cause the same serious damage to the brain.
1. Anemic anoxia. This form of anoxia results from blood that cannot carry sufficient oxygen to the brain. Some forms of lung disease can lead to insufficiently oxygenated blood, since the lungs are not processing oxygen sufficiently. While the blood flow to the brain is still adequate, the brain will not receive enough oxygen to perform vital functions. This can lead to slow deterioration of the patient’s overall condition. Chronic anemia, acute hemorrhage, and carbon monoxide poisoning can cause anemic anoxia.
2. Toxic anoxia. This form of anoxia is caused by toxins in the system that prevent the blood’s oxygen from being used efficiently. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause toxic anoxia.
3. Stagnant anoxia. This condition is also called hypoxicischemic injury (HII). In HII, an internal condition blocks sufficient oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain. Strokes, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiac arrest can cause HII.
4. Anoxic anoxia. This condition is caused when there is not enough oxygen in the air for the body to benefit with it. It can occur at high altitudes.
Common Causes of Anoxia
Heart attack and arrhythmia
Extreme low blood pressure
Carbon monoxide inhalation
Compression of the trachea
Illegal drug use
Symptoms of Anoxic Brain Injury
Loss of consciousness or a coma, although this is not always the case.
Short-term memory loss.
Poorer performance in executive functions which include judgment making, reasoning, and processing information.
Anomia. This term means having difficulty using words or processing what words mean.
Personality changes (such as increased irritability), and the inability to concentrate.
Diagnosing Anoxic Brain Damage
Loss of consciousness is a serious medical emergency; call an ambulance if you are with someone who has lost consciousness. Diagnostic tests for anoxic brain damage include:
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)—considered the gold standard for diagnostic tests; an MRI produces detailed cross-sections of the brain by using radio waves and magnets. The images are shown on a computer screen.
CT or CAT scan (computerized axial tomography) — which uses x-rays and the computer to show detailed images of brain’s interior.
EEG (electroencephalogram)—Electrodes are placed on the head to measure the brain’s electrical activity.
Blood tests, especially tests for arterial blood gases, since these determine the level of oxygen in the blood.
Treatment of Anoxic Brain Injury
Treatment depends on the type or cause, for instance, if lack of oxygen is due to a stroke, the first priority will be to treat the patient for stroke. If the problem is due to heart arrhythmia, steps will be taken to regulate and stabilize the heart’s rhythm.
Restoration of oxygen
Steroids may be given in an attempt to reduce brain swelling
The rehabilitation phase may include: Speech therapy, Physical therapy, Occupational therapy, Recreational therapy
Love and emotional support is vital for the patient during this time.
Preventing Anoxic Brain Damage
The best way to avoid the long-term effects of an anoxic Brain Injury is to avoid injury altogether. In the event of accident, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of anoxic brain damage to yourself and your loved ones:
Infants under the age of three are not exposed to choking hazards.
Chew your food slowly and carefully.
Engage in swimming activity
Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Stay away from high-voltage electrical sources.
Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Do not take illegal drugs, or abuse prescription drugs.
Maintain your heart’s health by exercising regularly, eating right, and getting regular check-ups.
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