Hypoxia is a condition where there is lack of oxygen within the body's tissues and vital organs like the brain. Hypoxic, anemic, hypemic, histotoxic and stagnant are the five different types of hypoxia. The term hypoxia actually means 'deficient in oxygen'. When the amount of oxygen in blood reduces considerably, it leads to this condition. It often occurs when a person reaches high altitudes, where the amount of oxygen in air is very low. Some people suffering from heart problems like ischemia, constriction or blockage of blood vessels, can also suffer from this condition.
Major causes include heart attack, asthma, pulmonary embolism, severe head trauma, chronic alveolar hypoventilation, carbon monoxide poisoning, suffocation and choking. Any circumstances due to which the body is deprived of oxygen can result in hypoxia. When the body doesn't receive the required amount of oxygen supply, it results in a low partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood. This leads to hypoxic hypoxia. The major causes for Hypoxic hypoxia are high altitude climbing, inadequate ventilation, or heart mechanism failure. It may also occur due to shunts in the pulmonary circulation of the heart. Collapsed alveoli in the lungs may also lead to shunts.
Anoxia results when there is no oxygen available. In hypemic hypoxia, there is an obstruction to the ability of the blood to deliver oxygen. This is caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. When the required amount of oxygen reaching the cells is not utilized effectively due to some disorder in the cells, it causes histotoxic hypoxia. Stagnant hypoxia, occurs when something obstructs the flow of the blood carrying an adequate amount of oxygen.
The symptoms can be insidious in its onset. Initially one begins to experience rapid breathing, lethargy, poor judgment, coordination problems, etc. The symptoms vary from person to person, but include:
- Air hunger
- Severe headache
- Mental and Muscle fatigue
- Hot and cold flashes
- Visual Impairment
- Blue discoloration of the skin (cyanosis)
- Shortness of breath
- Death, in some cases
It can be a fatal condition. If someone is suffering from this condition, it is very important to establish the airway by assisted breathing. The individual should immediately be taken to a hospital, where he should be put on a ventilator to assist in breathing. The blood pressure and heart rate should be monitored. They should be kept in control with the help of fluids or medicines. Seizures, if any, should be suppressed. Sometimes cold blankets are used as they slow down the activity of the brain cells and decrease the need of oxygen.
If it occurs when at climbing or living at high altitudes, one should stop any activity they are doing and drink a lot of fluids. After taking rest, one should climb down to reach a point where the body starts receiving more oxygen. In case of hypoventilation, the patient should be made to sit or rest in moderately high position. This will help the oxygen reach the lungs and overcome low oxygen levels. These patients are given supplemental oxygen therapy and are asked to wear a face mask connected to an oxygen cylinder. Patients with hypoxemic hypoxia, are given blood transfusions. This helps in increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
The patient should be given proper medications, the vital signs such as cardiac rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and temperature should be monitored. During the path to recovery, the patient may experience amnesia, personality regression, hallucinations, memory loss, muscle spasms and twitches. Recovery is possible when the brain has not been deprived of oxygen for a long period. Therefore, it is necessary to give adequate air and medical aid to the person suffering from it.
Prompt medical attention and treatment should be sought. The patient is to be given essential life support and his/her breathing rate has to be maintained. Intravenous medications should be given that helps in prevention of seizures and accelerates blood pressure. Thus, to save a life or prevent serious complications, medical intervention is very important.