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What Is COPD Hypoxia?

What is COPD and How Is It Related To Hypoxia?

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a group of medical conditions of lungs, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis(1). These medical conditions are characterized by difficulty in the passage of airflow and COPD is a condition where the patient suffers from difficulty when breathing(1).

Hypoxia refers to a medical condition where there is insufficient oxygen transported to tissues and cells in the body(5). The risk for developing hypoxia increases when the body is unable to deliver sufficient oxygen to the lungs.

Why Is It Important To Treat Hypoxia?

There are many serious and fatal complications that can develop as a result of hypoxia if not treated on time. Managing the hypoxia on the right time helps in preventing serious complications.

What are the Symptoms of COPD Hypoxia?

Oxygen is a vital part in functioning of the body and our body gets its oxygen via lungs. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes swelling and inflammation of the airways along with destruction of alveoli, which is the lung tissue(4). COPD causes hindrance in the transport of oxygen to all over the body.

Symptoms of COPD hypoxia are(1):

  • Severe shortness of breath after any physical activity.
  • Shortness of breath during rest.
  • Decreased tolerance to physical activity.
  • Choking sensation.
  • Waking up from sleep feeling out of breath.
  • Frequent cough and wheezing.
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis).

As chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic medical condition, the patient can experience all the above symptoms of hypoxia on a regular basis. These symptoms should be treated as medical emergency and not be ignored.

If the patient is feeling the above COPD hypoxia symptoms, then it is imperative to call 911 or go to an emergency room; especially if the symptoms are associated with fever, chest pain, confusion or fatigue.

What are the Complications of Untreated COPD Hypoxia?

The complications of COPD hypoxia include: Difficulty in breathing and this conditions affects other parts of the body besides the lungs.

When a person is unable to breathe sufficient amount of oxygen, then the blood is deprived of this important life saving component. The body needs oxygen to perform basic functions. Hypoxia, if ignored, can cause serious damage to the brain and heart.

Other complications of untreated COPD hypoxia are: mood disorders, such as depression, headache, fatigue, confusion, hypertension, tachycardia, pulmonary hypertension, acute respiratory failure, heart failure and secondary polycythemia.

What Is The Relation Between Hypoxia and Hypercapnia?

Hypercapnia is a medical condition, which can result from hypoxia and is characterized by accumulation of excessive carbon dioxide in the lungs caused by breathing difficulties (6).

It is simple math that when a person in unable to breathe in properly then that person will not be able to breathe out properly also. This leads to increased levels of carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can be fatal. As COPD progresses, this imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body also increases.

What is the Treatment of COPD Hypoxia?

Oxygen Therapy for Treating COPD Hypoxia(2, 3, 7)

If you want the hypoxia to be reversed, then the oxygen intake should be increased. Oxygen therapy, also known as prescribed oxygen or supplemental oxygen, is a common way for providing the extra oxygen in such conditions. Oxygen therapy compromises of a mechanical device, which supplies the oxygen to patient’s lungs.

Supplemental oxygen helps in alleviating the symptoms of COPD hypoxia, such as shortness of breath and also increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Oxygen therapy also reduces the burden on the heart and lungs and also reduces the chances of hypercapnia. Some tests are run by the doctor to measure the blood oxygen levels before prescribing oxygen therapy.

Oxygen Tanks for Treating COPD Hypoxia(8)

Compressed oxygen is used in oxygen therapy and this compressed oxygen is stored in a portable tank. The oxygen tank delivers the oxygen to the patient’s body via face mask, nasal tubes or a tube inserted into the windpipe. The amount of oxygen that the patient breathes in is tracked by a meter present on the oxygen tank.

Liquid Oxygen for Treating COPD Hypoxia(8)

Liquid oxygen is another treatment option for COPD hypoxia. Liquid oxygen forms into gas after it leaves its container. Liquid oxygen takes up lesser space when compared to compressed oxygen(9); however, liquid oxygen can also evaporate which means that its supply will deplete faster than other oxygen forms.

Oxygen Concentrators for Treating COPD Hypoxia(10)

This type of oxygen therapy is available in concentrator form where the device takes the air from the environment and removes the unnecessary gases and stores oxygen for patient’s use(11). This does not require prefilled oxygen containers unlike compressed oxygen.

Oxygen Concentrators are beneficial to people who need the use of oxygen therapy all the time. However, the Oxygen Concentrators require electricity to function(11), this somewhat makes it less versatile when compared to compressed oxygen.

Medications for Treating COPD Hypoxia & Avoiding Triggers

Other than medications for treating COPD, the patient may also need medications for controlling breathing problems occurring as a result of other conditions. These medications are:

  • Medications for blood pressure that will help reduce swelling in the lungs.
  • Medications for heart ailments to control chest pain and heart failure.
  • Medications for controlling gastroesophageal reflux disease or indigestion.
  • Allergy medications

Other than medical treatments, a person suffering from COPD hypoxia needs to avoid environmental triggers that will worsen their condition and these include: smoking, air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust or chemicals in the air.

What is the Prognosis for COPD Hypoxia?

There is no cure for COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1, 4). However, treatment for COPD is very important to prevent complications, such as respiratory failure, which is a common COPD complication resulting in death.

Lifelong treatment is needed for patients suffering from COPD hypoxia, and to prevent complications arising from oxygen deprivation. Treatment of low oxygen levels helps in breathing easier and also makes it easy for the patient to perform daily tasks of living along with getting better sleep at night.


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 25, 2021

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