Every part of the body including the brain requires a continuous adequate oxygen supply. No organ of the body can function correctly when it is deprived of sufficient oxygen supply and this very much holds true for the brain also. In hypoxic brain injury, better known as cerebral hypoxia, the brain stops working properly because it does not receive enough oxygen.
Although, the oxygen supply is not completely cut off, nevertheless, it is a serious issue and requires urgent medical attention. Cerebral hypoxia does not necessarily mean that the blood flow to the brain has disrupted. This condition can occur even when the brain is getting normal blood circulation. In this type of brain injury, the amount of oxygen in the brain tissue declines below normal levels.
This condition that is typically marked by reduction in oxygen supply to the brain can occur due to wide range of reasons. Situations that interfere with normal breathing such as suffocation from exposure to high amount of toxic gases can cause this type of brain injury. People also suffocate when caught in fire. The smoke from fire makes it difficult to breathe, which may cause hypoxic brain injury, eventually making the person unconscious. Choking resulting from strangulation, electric shock or partial drowning can also cause cerebral hypoxia.
Severe cases of asthma, mountaineers traveling at high altitudes to scale new peaks where there is less atmospheric oxygen may also suffer from this brain problem. Stroke and in medical conditions like cardiac arrest (heart fails to pump blood) the blood circulation to the brain is reduced drastically. This can also deprive the brain of its oxygen supply, leading to cerebral hypoxia.
So, how will the body respond when the oxygen concentration in the brain is decreasing. Fortunately the body has its own mechanism of dealing with this medical condition. As blood is the only way through which the brain gets oxygen supply, the body increases blood flow to the brain in order to compensate for oxygen deprivation. However, if the brain continues to receive inadequate oxygen, this mechanism will soon fail to support the brain and the symptoms will make their presence felt. They are given below:
- Inability to do assignments that require complex analytical thinking
- Cognitive problems such as decreased concentration and difficulty reading
- Decreased motor control that may include inability to walk properly and perform fine movements
- Short-term memory loss
- Bluish Skin
The primary aim of the treatment is to restore oxygen supply in minimal amount of time. In order to achieve this task at the earliest, an aggressive treatment such as putting the person on the ventilator to facilitate breathing might be implemented. Medications will be given as per the symptoms of cerebral hypoxia. For instance, seizures might be treated with anticonvulsant drugs to control involuntary muscle movement.
Steroids might also be prescribed to decrease inflammation of the brain tissue resulting from hypoxic brain injury. If the cardiac arrest is the cause, then first aid techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation as well as medicines like epinephrine might be injected to increase heart rate. Barbiturates that act as sedative agents might also be used to depress the brain. These sedatives slow down the functionality of the brain, in turn allowing the damaged part of the brain to correct itself.
Recovery time will depend on how long the treatment has been delayed, which means the amount of time the brain suffered from partial oxygen deprivation but most importantly it is primarily dependent upon the severity of the injury. The amount of time during which the brain was not getting adequate oxygen is a crucial factor in deciding the recovery time. Longer the duration of lack of oxygen to the brain, more will be the destruction of brain cells, in turn prolonging the recovery time.
For instance, the person becoming unconscious is a common symptom associated with cerebral hypoxia. How much time the medical treatment requires to make the patient conscious determines whether he would recovery completely. Shorter the duration of unconsciousness, higher will be the chances of minimal brain damage. This in turn will elevate the chances of full recovery. The underlying cause of hypoxic brain injury can also influence the recovery time. Causes involving carbon dioxide poisoning create complications and increase the recovery time.
Prognosis of this medical conditions depends on several factors, the most important being the severity of the injury. Other factors that will have an impact on the way the disease progresses are given below:
- How much area of the brain did not get oxygen
- How effective the medicines are in correcting the damage
- Amount of time spent in resuming normal oxygen supply
In case, cerebral hypoxia remains confined to a specific region of the brain, then its impact on the quality of life is dependent upon the functionality of the damaged part of the brain. Depending upon the area of the brain that didn't receive oxygen, impairments in speech, emotions or understanding may occur. If hypoxic brain injury inflicts damage to the portion of the brain that controls muscle movement, it can lead to paralysis. The prognosis of this brain injury causing coma is determined by the amount of time the person remains in the unconscious state. Longer the duration of coma, more the brain damage and subsequently lower will be the chances of leading a normal life.
Overall, oxygen deprivation to the brain lasting for a very short amount of time produces reversible damage and its impact is not experienced in the later stages of life. In simple words, long-term effects of mild hypoxic brain injury are nil as brain function remains intact after the phase of inadequate oxygen supply goes away.