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What is Anoxia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Types, Prognosis, Diagnosis

What is Anoxia?

Anoxia is a severe and aggravated form of hypoxia, a condition that happens when a part of the body is not able to obtain sufficient oxygen. Anoxia happens when the body does not get adequate or any oxygen. This usually results in a hypoxic-anoxic injury as a lack of oxygen can lead to severe damage to your organs and tissues or even cause death. This is why if anyone suspects that they are having hypoxia and not getting enough oxygen, they need to seek medical attention at the earliest.

This is an emergency because it only takes around 4 minutes without oxygen for your brain to suffer permanent damage.(1) A lack of oxygen to the brain causes the brain cells to die and also increases the chances of having brain damage or brain death.

What is Anoxia?

What are the Symptoms of Anoxia?

Some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate you are experiencing mild anoxia are as follows:

The longer a person goes without oxygen, the more serious and more apparent these symptoms will become. If you experience anoxia for several minutes, then it can cause:

Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of anoxia might be apparent immediately because for a couple of minutes the brain is able to compensate for the lack of oxygen before any of the symptoms start showing up.(2)

The initial symptoms are usually mild, and you usually end up ignoring them. However, it is important that you get immediate medical attention if you experience anoxia.

Are there Different Types of Anoxia?

Yes, there are several types of anoxia. Some of these include:

Anemic Anoxia

  • The most commonly occurring type of anoxia is anemic anoxia, which takes place when there is less hemoglobin in the blood. It can also happen if the hemoglobin that is present becomes ineffective.
  • Hemoglobin is important for the proper functioning of the body. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body via your blood. If hemoglobin is not able to deliver sufficient oxygen to your organs, then the organs will eventually stop working properly.
  • Anemic anoxia is also known to affect the development of red blood cells in the body.(3)

Stagnant Anoxia

  • Stagnant anoxia is a condition when a person’s blood fails to reach the brain or the other major organs that need blood to function properly. Stagnant anoxia is also referred to as a hypoxic-ischemic injury.
  • Heart-related problems such as heart failure or a stroke are usually the major causes of stagnant anoxia.

Toxic Anoxia

The condition of toxic anoxia prevents the blood from transporting oxygen throughout the body. This usually happens after a person absorbs, ingests, or inhales some type of toxins or some harmful chemicals, including carbon monoxide.

Anoxic Anoxia

This type of anoxia happens when there is not enough oxygen available for the body to keep functioning correctly. It is common for a person to experience anoxic anoxia if they are at a high altitude, where there is limited oxygen available in the air.

What are the Causes of Anoxia?

There are many situations and conditions that lead to anoxia. These include:

  • A drug overdose
  • Respiratory or cardiac arrest
  • Suffocation or choking
  • Strangulation
  • Blood loss that causes your blood pressure to drop
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Carbon monoxide inhalation
  • Acute asthma attack
  • Severe electric shock
  • Irregular heartbeat or damage to the heart muscles that prevents the heart from pumping enough oxygen and blood to the brain

Other heart-related events including a stroke, heart attack, or heart failure

  • A near drowning situation
  • Exposure to certain poisons or toxic chemicals
  • Reaction to general anesthesia(4)
  • Pneumonia

Inadequate supply of oxygen or a cardiac arrest while being under general anesthesia

How is Anoxia Diagnosed?

If you experience the symptoms of anoxia, your doctor will perform a series of tests to determine the underlying cause of anoxia and to come up with an accurate diagnosis. These diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • An MRI scan
  • A CT scan to look at the images of the brain
  • An fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan
  • An EEG for testing the electrical activity in the brain

Treatment for Anoxia

There are many types of treatments available for anoxia, and the specific treatment you are prescribed will depend on the underlying cause of anoxia and how long you had been deprived of oxygen.

The first priority for any doctor is to try and revert your oxygen levels back to normal. This can be achieved by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or by using a ventilator to help boost your oxygen levels.

The faster you receive treatment, the sooner your oxygen levels will be able to return to normal and the better chances you will have of making a full recovery. Immediate treatment for anoxia will also decrease the chances of any further complications.

If complications do occur, then your doctor is likely to prescribe the following treatments:

  • Speech therapy in cases where the patient loses the ability to speak or swallow
  • Physical therapy to help the patient regain control of their motor functions
  • Occupational therapy for helping patients adapt to new routines
  • Psychotherapy or counseling to help a person adjust to any life changes that have occurred
  • Recreational therapy for helping the patient remain involved within the community and to continue learning new thing

Treatment for anoxia complications typically takes place at rehabilitation centers that specialize in helping patients with brain injuries to cope, recover, and adjust to their new routines and come to terms with their new condition.

Anoxia treatment effectiveness depends on a variety of factors. These include:

  • Your age
  • The amount of time your brain was deprived of oxygen
  • If there is a presence of a coma
  • The length of a coma

It has been observed that the younger you are, the faster you can recover from the effects of anoxia as compared to people who are over the age of 50. Good progress and improvement during the very first month of your treatment are taken as an indication of a more favorable outcome. However, it can take up to a year before it becomes possible to determine how a patient will ultimately recover.(5)

Conclusion – What is the Outlook or Prognosis for Anoxia?

Hypoxic-anoxic injuries to the brain are very serious, and they can cause permanent and severe damage to the brain and other organs of the body.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of anoxia, as well as hypoxia, will help you a great deal because then you can seek immediate medical attention. It is absolutely critical to get immediate medical care in case you are suffering from anoxia. The faster you get a medical response, the lesser will be the complications caused by lack of oxygen. This will also help determine the speed and the potential of recovery.

Many people go on to make a complete recovery with no complications. For people who need support after experiencing a brain injury, there are many types of treatment options, including physical, mental, and occupational therapy that will help them rehabilitate and continue with their lives.


  1. Anon, (2019). [online] Available at: http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org//2009/08/cprl1-0908.html [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
  2. Hansen, A.J., 1985. Effect of anoxia on ion distribution in the brain. Physiological reviews, 65(1), pp.101-148.
  3. ERSLEV, A.J. and Ruiz, E., 1959. The effect of anemic anoxia on the cellular development of nucleated red cells. Blood, 14(4), pp.386-398.
  4. White, J.C., Verlot, M., Selverstone, B. and Beecher, H.K., 1942. Changes in brain volume during anesthesia: The effects of anoxia and hypercapnia. Archives of Surgery, 44(1), pp.1-21.
  5. Barach, A.L., 1950. The treatment of anoxia in clinical medicine. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 26(6), p.370.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 14, 2019

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