Hypoxic-Anoxic Brain Injury

Last Updated : 12/03/20194 min read

Summary: The brain requires constant oxygen. Hypoxic-anoxic brain injury caused by drowning or heart attack cuts off oxygen to the brain.

The brain requires an uninterrupted oxygen flow to function and remain healthy. Hypoxic or anoxic brain injury refers to damage caused by cutting off oxygen to the brain, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

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Hypoxic brain injury means oxygen flow is reduced. Anoxic brain injury refers to having oxygen completely cut off. The outcome depends on the duration of oxygen deprivation, treatment, and individual recovery.

What is Hypoxia?

Healthline defines hypoxia as a general term for situations when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. A hypoxic or anoxic brain injury can become serious in a fairly short amount of time.

Causes of hypoxic or anoxic brain injury

Some situations that could cause hypoxic brain injury might include drowning or even cardiac arrest (heart attack). Some other causes could include carbon monoxide poisoning or strokes. Healthline also lists other potential sources of hypoxic or anoxic brain injury as:

  • Very low blood pressure
  • Anesthesia complications
  • Serious asthma attacks
  • Breathing at very high altitudes
  • Physical brain injuries

Who is at risk for hypoxic or anoxic brain injury?

People who suffer from such medical issues as hypotension, asthma, or ALS also suffer from an increased risk of hypoxic or anoxic brain injury according to Healthline. Other people at risk for not getting enough oxygen to their brain could include people who participate in such sports as mountain climbing or diving. Sports like boxing and football may come with an increased risk of physical brain injuries as well.

Symptoms of hypoxic-anoxic brain injury

Initial symptoms of hypoxic or anoxic brain injury could include poor coordination, a temporary memory loss, or difficulty paying attention or making good decisions. More severe symptoms include unconsciousness, coma, seizures, and eventually, brain death.

Medical responders might assume hypoxic or anoxic brain injury because of the situation and visible symptoms. For example, they may assume hypoxia or anoxia in an unconscious drowning victim.

Doctors may clinically diagnose hypoxic-anoxic brain injury conditions in several ways:

  • Measuring oxygen in the blood
  • EKG, EEG, MRI, or CT scans

Hypoxic and anoxic brain injury and cardiac arrest

According to the NIH, hypoxic and anoxic brain injury in cardiac patients is one of the main causes of long-term neurological problems and death. Survivors may experience long-term effects that range from minimal cognitive impairment to a vegetative state.

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In fact, hypoxic-anoxic brain injury is cited as the cause of death almost two-thirds of the time when cardiac arrest occurs inside of a hospital. It’s the cause of death almost one-quarter of the time when cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital.

Treatment and prevention of hypoxia and anoxia

Healthline says that treatments will vary because of the severity and type of injury. For instance, mountain climbing may cause a mild case of hypoxia, and the treatment would simply include returning to lower altitudes or relying on oxygen tanks. Sometimes, a patient with a milder case may also get blood transfusions and other fluids through an IV to support heart function.

In more severe cases, immediate treatment for hypoxia and anoxia could consist of using a ventilator to support breathing. In the long term, doctors may prescribe medication and therapy to remedy various symptoms. Some profoundly injured patients may require long-term care.

Prevention of hypoxia and anoxia could consist of avoiding situations that would cause brain injuries or restrict normal breathing. People with certain medical conditions need to manage their health to avoid the worst symptoms. For example, patients at risk for heart disease may need to manage blood pressure through medication, physical activity, and a heart-healthy diet.

Medicare and brain injuries

Medicare offers broad coverage for various hypoxia and anoxia treatments. Medicare.gov has a search function to find rehabilitation facilities for people who need intensive care after a stroke, heart attack, or other source of hypoxic or anoxic brain injuries.

Medicare Part A typically covers inpatient care, subject to deductibles and possible daily coinsurance payments. Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans and Medicare Advantage plans can eliminate or limit these kinds of out-of-pocket costs. Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) has no out-of-pocket limit, but Medicare Advantage plans all do have out-of-pocket limits.

Do you need to find additional Medicare insurance to help you limit out-of-pocket expenses associated with brain injury or other medical conditions? If so, enter your ZIP code on this page.

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