Anoxic Brain Damage
(Anoxic Brain Injury; Hypoxic Brain Injury)
Anoxic brain damage is injury to the brain due to a lack of oxygen. Hypoxia is the term to describe low oxygen. Brain cells without enough oxygen will begin to die after about 4 minutes.
Progression of Anoxic Brain Damage
Oxygen is carried to the brain in the blood. Anoxic brain damage may occur if:
- Blood flow to the brain is blocked or slowed. This can happen with:
The blood flow is normal, but the blood is not carrying enough oxygen. This may happen if:
- You have lung disease
- There is a lack of oxygen in the air, which may occur at high altitudes
- You have prolonged exposure to certain poisons or other toxins, such as carbon monoxide
- You have an event that is stopping you from breathing normally, such as drowning, choking, or suffocation
The following accidents and health problems may increase your chance of anoxic brain damage:
Severe damage may lead to a coma or a vegetative state. Mild-to-moderate hypoxic brain damage may cause:
- Decreased concentration and attention span
- Mood swings and/or personality change
- Intermittent loss of consciousness
- Poor coordination
Rarely, there may be a decline in brain function a few days or weeks after the event occurred. This is caused by delayed injury in the brain.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a doctor who specializes in brain problems.
These tests may be ordered to learn the extent of the brain damage and the part of the brain that is involved:
Treatment of anoxic brain damage will depend on the cause. Some treatment options include:
- Oxygen therapy to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood
- Medication to help get adequate oxygenated blood to the brain
- Efforts to cool the brain to help limit brain damage
Recovery from brain damage can be uncertain. It will also take time. Your chance for recovery depends on how long and how severely you were deprived of oxygen. Many people with mild brain damage can usually recover most of the lost functions.
During rehabilitation, you and your family may work with:
- Physical therapist—to retrain motor skills, such as walking
- Occupational therapist—to improve daily skills, such as dressing and going to the bathroom
- Speech therapist—to work on language problems
- Psychologist—for behavior and emotional issues related to the injury
Recovery can take months, or even years. In many cases, full recovery is never achieved, but some can successfully learn to live with any remaining disabilities. In general, the sooner rehabilitation starts, the better the outcome.
To help reduce your chance of anoxic brain damage:
- Chew your food carefully to avoid choking
- Learn to swim
- Carefully supervise young children around water
- Stay clear of high voltage electrical sources, including exposure to lightning
- Avoid chemical toxins and illicit drugs
- Install carbon monoxide detectors
American Brain Injury Society
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Last reviewed May 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.