Hypoxia: definition, symptoms, treatments

Hypoxia is a medical term used to refer to a lack of oxygen supply to the body’s tissues. Localized or generalized, hypoxia requires adequate medical care to avoid the occurrence of complications.

What is hypoxia?

Hypoxia, or tissue hypoxia, corresponds to an insufficient supply of oxygen in relation to the needs of the body’s tissues. Before it can be used in the body, oxygen is an element that must be brought by breathing, transported within the bloodstream, and then distributed to the different tissues.

Hypoxia may be due to different stages of this process. It may refer to, inter alia:

  • a decrease in the amount of oxygen supplied to the cells;
  • the inability of tissues to use available oxygen.

What are the different types of hypoxia?

Hypoxia can be classified according to different parameters including their origin. These include:

  • cerebral hypoxia, which refers to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain;
  • fetal hypoxia, which corresponds to oxygen deficiency in the fetus;
  • hypoxemic hypoxia, which corresponds to a decrease in the partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2);
  • hypoxia of anemia, which is the consequence of a decrease in the level of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood;
  • hypoxia of circulatory origin, which is associated with a problem with blood flow;
  • cytotoxic hypoxia, which is due to a change in respiratory enzymes causing tissues to be unable to use oxygen.

What causes hypoxia?

Hypoxia can have many explanations such as:

  • anemia, including iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemia;
  • certain respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchopneumopathies, pulmonary embolism, or pulmonary infarction;
  • certain congenital heart defects ;
  • bleeding or shock ;
  • heart failure ;
  • hypoventilation ;
  • carbon monoxide poisoning ;
  • certain poisons such as cyanide;
  • Stays at altitude ;
  • a decompression accident.

Who is concerned?

Hypoxia is a phenomenon that can occur in many people. Nevertheless, some risk factors have been identified. The risk of hypoxia is particularly greater in the:

  • people with asthma;
  • people at risk of anemia, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and lactating women;
  • people at cardiovascular risk ;
  • Divers ;
  • smokers.

What is the risk of complications?

Given the importance of oxygen for the proper functioning of the body, hypoxia can cause complications such as:

  • cyanosis, which is characterized by the appearance of a bluish coloration in the skin and mucous membranes;
  • neurological damage, which can be responsible for memory problems.

In the most severe cases, hypoxia can lead to anoxia, i.e. an absence of oxygen in the tissues. Anoxia is a medical emergency because it exposes the body to serious complications such as:

  • heart failure ;
  • stroke ;
  • irreversible brain damage ;
  • a coma.

What are the symptoms of hypoxia?

Symptoms of hypoxia are usually:

  • nausea
  • headache or headache
  • hyperventilation
  • tachycardia ;
  • behavioral problems.

What are the treatments for hypoxia?

Treatment of hypoxia depends on its origin, course, and severity. It usually relies on the administration of oxygen, which can be carried out in different ways depending on the abnormality identified.

Additional oxygen input can be made using:

  • an oxygen mask, covering the nose and mouth, to bring oxygen to the lungs;
  • an endotracheal intubation tube, inserted through the mouth or nose, to maintain mechanical ventilation;
  • a tracheostomy cannula, which is a tube surgically placed in the trachea to provide breathing
  • a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which is used in particular to provide oxygen in case of carbon monoxide poisoning

Image Credit: Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

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