If the brain utilizes the most amount of blood and oxygen we breathe in, it is for a reason. The brain works every single second, constantly saving and processing new data, and thus requires oxygen in relatively large amount. When the brain receives less amount of oxygen due to inadequate oxygen levels in the blood, it can lead to dangerous consequences. A cut off from oxygen for a minute or so is still reversible, but if the brain is deprived of oxygen for more than four minutes, then the brain cells, i.e., the neurons, begin to die and this damage is nearly irreversible. Anoxic brain injury is one such injury that occurs due to lack of adequate amount of oxygen reaching the brain.
While lack of oxygen to the brain is known to trigger anoxic brain injury, one has to take into consideration what disrupts this flow of oxygen to the brain. There are many different conditions that can lead to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain.
- Some lung diseases, wherein there is less amount of oxygen circulating in the body.
- Decreased amount of oxygen present in the air to breathe, i.e., anoxia triggered due to environmental conditions.
- Hypoxia or anoxia due to poisoning, like chemical poisoning of the blood.
- Sudden severe attacks of respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest.
- Condition where the person is being deprived of oxygen, like drowning or choking and strangulation.
- Very low blood pressure, leading to insufficient amount of oxygen reaching the brain.
- Cardiac arrhythmias, leading to a decrease in the amount of blood reaching the brain.
Signs and Symptoms
There are many different signs and symptoms of an anoxic injury to the brain. The symptoms that the patient will show will depend on the extent and severity of the injury and, more importantly, which part of the brain has been deprived of oxygen. If the anoxia is severe, then the person will lose consciousness and may even go into a coma.
From the coma, the person may progress into a vegetative state as well, and that too for an unpredictable period. If the person, after the initial trauma manages to regain consciousness, then once again, it is hard to predict the immediate extent of injury and what symptoms the person will show. This is because, as is the case with head trauma patients, one cannot predict what part of the brain has been damaged.
Thus, a patient may show one or more of the following symptoms:
- The person may not be as sharp at making judgment calls or reasoning as before, and thus may become indecisive or may take longer for reflexes or for making decisions compared to how he was earlier. This may make it difficult for him to concentrate and so, he may even become frustrated.
- If the motor section of the brain is affected due to the injury, then the person may find it difficult to coordinate his muscles to even perform daily menial tasks, like eating or brushing his teeth. He may also have difficulty walking erect and so, his gait may seem a bit unsteady. If there is severe damage to this region, then he may even have fit-like movements, which may appear spastic, jerky and uncoordinated.
- If one of the areas that was affected due to the lack of oxygen is near the memory center of the brain, then it may result in amnesia or loss of memory. This may be in the form of short term memory loss, where the person may find it difficult to process new information given to him.
- One other defect that may occur if the speech area of the person is involved is called anomia, wherein a person may find it difficult to find the right words to imply what he is saying. In such circumstances, he may use one word thinking it means something, when it will be different from what he wants to say.
- Other symptoms include mood swings, confusion, frequent headaches, hallucinations and maybe even depression.
Prognosis and Treatment
It is difficult to determine the exact treatment protocol for individual with brain anoxia. However, as soon as the person faints, you must rush him to the hospital without any delay. After a series of tests, it can be roughly determined how bad the injury is. Usually, if the injury is due to a directly treatable cause, like lack of oxygen due to a lung disease, then this is dealt with first. Any further damage to the brain is to be restricted at this stage, as it may prove to be fatal. Palliative treatment, in the form of cold packs or even use of steroids or barbiturates, can help reduce the extent of the damage.
The person may require being on a ventilator initially. It is difficult to predict the prognosis of the patient, as each case varies greatly when it comes to the extent of the damage and the rate of recovery. So, even with effective and multiple treatments and slow rehabilitation, the patient may or may not go back to how he was initially. He may require speech therapy, physical therapy and most of all, counseling to help him deal with and accept his condition.
A lot of people have a hard time coming to terms with an anoxic brain injury. This kind of condition takes its toll not only on the patient, but also on the family members. Thus, in such cases, one must always be patient, try out every treatment option that is at his disposal and most of all, hope for the best.