Hypoxic-Anoxic Brain Injury
This article was updated on: 05/15/2017
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, hypoxic-anoxic brain injury occurs when there is not enough oxygen available to the brain for it to function normally and perform the vital processes that support life. Hypoxic brain injury refers to a reduced level of oxygen; anoxic brain injury points to a total lack of oxygen.
The National Institutes of Health reports that there are many different events that could cause hypoxia, such as a blow to the head, heart attack, suffocation, drowning, or complications from general anesthesia.
The health consequences of anoxic and hypoxic brain injury depend on the severity of the incident and the length of time the brain was deprived of oxygen. In milder cases, individuals might suffer memory loss, inattentiveness, and/or weakened motor skills, according to the National Institutes of Health. In more severe cases, the consequences of hypoxic-anoxic brain injury may include seizures, coma, and even brain death.
What are the symptoms of hypoxic brain injury?
The Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) reports that a person who has suffered a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury can display a range of symptoms including (but not limited to):
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty with “executive functions” (reasoning, decision-making, judgment, impulse control, attention span)
- Weakened language skills (such as difficulty finding the right word, or not understanding a commonly used word)
- Visual disturbances (such as perceiving “halos” or other trouble seeing)
- Loss of coordination.
- Spasticity, rigidity, tremors, and weakness in the arms and legs.
- In rare cases, according to the FCA, hallucinations may also appear after a hypoxic brain injury.
The FCA website says some people also show signs of irritability, depression, agitation, restlessness, and personality change. These symptoms might appear during recovery, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What is the prognosis after a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the extent and speed of recovery generally depends on how long the patient’s brain was deprived of oxygen and the extent of any brain damage.
The FCA goes into more detail and says that the prognosis may depend on the following variables:
- How long the person was in a coma. In general, people who awaken within the first 12 hours are less likely to suffer long-term damage, while the prognosis is poor for those who remain comatose for four weeks or longer.
- The condition of the pupils. If the pupils of the eyes are fixed or dilated, there is likely a more significant level of brain damage.
- Brain imaging test results. MRIs and CT scans performed serially in the weeks and months after the anoxic or hypoxic brain injury may show the extent of brain matter injury.
- Age. Some studies suggest that people under age 25 are more likely to recover than older individuals.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) and evoked potential (EP) results. These scans test for activity in the brain.
Your loved one will likely be attended by a team of medical professionals including physical and occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and neuropsychologists who will give you a better idea of the recovery process and what you can expect going forward.
Is there any advice for the caregiver after someone suffers hypoxic-anoxic brain injury?
The recovery process after hypoxic brain injury can be difficult, frustrating, and long, both for the patient and the caregiver. The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests that you meet with all the members of your loved one’s treatment team and ask for a frank assessment and range of possibilities in terms of recovery. This way, you’ll be able to manage your expectations and better gauge your progress. Here are some other concrete steps the FCA recommends for you as a caregiver to improve the recovery process:
- Learn about each of the professionals who treat your loved one and find out what you can do between sessions to aid recovery. Are there exercises or activities they recommend? Can you do anything to prepare your loved one prior to the session? A well-informed caregiver can be both an advocate for and a participant in the recovery process.
- Keep friends and loved ones informed along the way. A weekly email with a progress report, updated prognosis, and any caregiver requests is a good way to stay in touch and get the support you need.
- Schedule regular family meetings for everyone involved in caregiving. Ask one of your loved one’s therapists or other health professionals to attend, if possible, to answer any questions and more fully explain health status and recovery options.
- Help your loved one stay positive and motivated to recover. As a caregiver, you are uniquely positioned to help your loved one through the difficult periods when progress is slow or discouragement sets in. Celebrate every success, even the “minor” ones like remembering a name or drinking from a cup. This helps set the foundation for future successes and reminds your loved one that he is moving forward.
This article is for general information only and may not apply to your circumstances. This article should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.