Brain Hypoxia: Everything You Need to Know

Brain Hypoxia: Everything You Need to Know

Have you or someone you love suffered from brain hypoxia? It affects oxygen flow to the largest part of the brain and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.  

Many people are at risk for hypoxia, including swimmers, divers, athletes, and mountain bikers.

Brain injuries sustained during these activities or otherwise are some of the most dire injuries that can occur to any person. Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent death. Often, ongoing treatment post-surgery is required to regain all or most brain function again.

It's a tough and trying road, but it can be done.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about brain hypoxia and what you can do about it.

What is Cerebral Hypoxia?

Brain hypoxia, or Cerebral Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. It can happen when blood supply is cut off to the brain for any number of reasons. It can also occur when there is a decreased supply of oxygen to the brain - even though there may be adequate blood flow. 

The condition is very serious because all cells, including those in our brain, need a steady flow of oxygen to function properly. Without it, they die.

Without our brains, we die.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone can be at risk for brain hypoxia.

If you have a job or partake in activities that put you in situations that can deprive you of oxygen, the risk is more severe.

For example, athletes tend to suffer brain hypoxia in greater percentages. This is because head injuries, or TBI’s, are quite common in most sports, such as boxing and football.

On the other end of the spectrum, those participating in activities that are prone to oxygen deficiency are at risk, too. Swimmers and divers are constantly depriving themselves of oxygen every time they go under the water. Mountain climbers, as well, increase their risk with each step taking them higher and higher in altitude. 

Our brain can be deprived of oxygen for other reasons, too. Some of these include carbon monoxide poisoning, head trauma, drowning, choking, strangulation, and suffocation, as well as complications when undergoing general anesthesia.

There are also medical conditions that limit the exchange of oxygen within the brain. These conditions include:


Athletes should wear protective gear at all times during sports, when possible.

When a medical condition is involved, always be monitoring the health condition. It's better to be safe than sorry.

If you have hypotension, contact your doctor if your blood pressure gets too low. If you're asthmatic, keep your inhaler nearby at all times and have a spare available. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, have it properly diagnosed and invest in the appropriate equipment to treat it. If you are prone to altitude sickness, avoid high altitudes as much as possible.

And as a general rule, be familiar with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). You never know when you'll come across someone in need of assistance, like someone in a house fire suffering from smoke inhalation. CPR helps to prevent hypoxia from getting worse.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of brain hypoxia vary greatly depending on the severity of the situation. The longer you go without oxygen, the worse it can get.

Mild symptoms can include:

  • Temporary memory loss

  • Loss of bodily control

  • Inattentiveness

  • Poor judgment

Brain cells are extremely sensitive and can begin to deteriorate and die after only 5 minutes of oxygen loss. Severe symptoms of brain hypoxia can include:

  • Unconsciousness

  • Coma

  • Seizure

  • Brain death

Brain death occurs when there is no longer a response to stimuli from the patient and there is no measurable brain activity. The body can still survive with medical assistance, but the patient remains in a vegetative state.

Currently, there is no way to treat brain death.

How is Hypoxia Diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose cerebral hypoxia by examining your symptoms in relation to recent activities along with a medical history. Also, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and tests. The tests may include:

  • Blood tests to determine the amount of oxygen in your blood

  • An MRI scan for detailed images of your brain

  • A CT scan for a 3D graphic of your head

  • An echocardiogram for a detailed image of your heart

  • An electrocardiogram to measure your heart’s electrical activity

  • An electroencephalogram to measure the electrical activity of your brain

How is Brain Hypoxia Treated?

Cerebral hypoxia requires immediate attention to restore the supply of oxygen to the brain.

The course of treatment depends on the cause and severity of your condition. For example, a mild case caused by mountain climbing could be remedied by immediately returning to a lower altitude.

In more severe cases, when the brain has been deprived of oxygen for a long period of time and more damage has been done, you will most likely require life-saving medical emergency care. This can include a ventilator that will temporarily take over the breathing process for you.

Your heart may need support as well, as its primary function is to distribute oxygenated blood throughout the body. For this, you might require blood transfusions or other fluids through an intravenous tube. Also, you may require medication for blood pressure issues or to maintain a steady heart rate.

Seizure-curbing medicines or anesthetics may also be necessary for the patient's treatment.

Ongoing Treatment

The severity of the oxygen deprivation that the patient has experienced will determine their ongoing treatment for brain hypoxia.

There is no guaranteed treatment plan across the board. It is difficult for doctors to determine how well or how quickly a patient will recover, but some factors can help predict the outcome. These factors include:

Length of Hypoxia

The longer a person remains unconscious or in a coma, the poorer the outcome.

Eye Movement

If the pupils of both eyes are fixed or dilated, it suggests severe damage to the brain stem which results in a less favourable outcome.


Patients younger than 25 years of age have a better chance of recovery than older patients.

Diagnostic Tests

The results from the tests your doctor administers can give great insight into the patient's recovery outcome.

Recovery Challenges

During recovery from brain hypoxia, patients may experience several neurological or psychological challenges during therapy. They can include:

  • Amnesia

  • Mood changes

  • Insomnia

  • Seizures

  • Memory loss

  • Personality changes

  • Hallucinations

  • Muscle spasms or twitches

  • Vision problems

These symptoms may last for some time, but often resolve. Your doctors and therapists will discuss with you or your loved one the practical recovery plan specific to you. 

It's important to get back on your feet as soon as possible, so look into a healthy plan and proper neuronutrition program to help get you there.

Seek Care Now

Brain hypoxia is a scary prognosis, but it isn't always the end of the world.

Recovery is a long and arduous journey, but you don't have to go it alone. I’m here to help you along your journey.

Contact me now to see how, as an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach, I can help. 

As always, I welcome your thoughts and value your feedback. Let me know what you think by dropping me a line or commenting below.

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