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Hypoxia: definition, symptoms, treatments

Hypoxia is a medical term used to denote a lack of oxygen supply to the tissues of the body. Localized or generalized, hypoxia requires adequate medical management to avoid the occurrence of complications.

What is hypoxia?

Hypoxia, or tissue hypoxia, is an inadequate supply of oxygen relative to the needs of body tissues. Before it can be used in the body, oxygen is an element that must be brought by breathing, transported within the bloodstream and then distributed to different tissues. Hypoxia may be due to different stages of this process. In particular, it may refer to:

  • a decrease in the amount of oxygen delivered to the cells;
  • An inability of the tissues to use available oxygen.

What are the different types of hypoxia?

Hypoxia can be classified according to different parameters including their origin. We distinguish in particular:

  • cerebral hypoxia , which refers to an insufficient supply of oxygen in the brain;
  • fetal hypoxia , which is a deficiency of oxygen in the fetus;
  • hypoxemic hypoxia , which corresponds to a decrease in the partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2);
  • hypoxia of anemia , which is the consequence of a decrease in the level of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood;
  • circulatory hypoxia , which is associated with a problem with blood flow;
  • Cytotoxic hypoxia , which is due to a modification of the respiratory enzymes causing a tissue inability to use oxygen.

What are the causes of hypoxia?

Hypoxia can have many explanations such as:

  • anemias , including iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemia;
  • certain respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchopulmonary diseases, pulmonary embolism or pulmonary infarction;
  • certain congenital heart diseases ;
  • hemorrhage or shock ;
  • heart failure ;
  • hypoventilation ;
  • carbon monoxide poisoning ;
  • some poisons like cyanide;
  • stays at altitude ;
  • Decompression sickness .

Who is concerned ?

Hypoxia is a phenomenon that can occur in many people. Nevertheless, some risk factors have been identified. The risk of hypoxia is notably greater in:

  • people with asthma
  • people at risk of anemia , such as the elderly, pregnant women and breastfeeding women;
  • people with cardiovascular risk ;
  • divers ;
  • Smokers .

What is the risk of complication?

Given the importance of oxygen for the proper functioning of the body, hypoxia can be at the origin of complications such as:

  • cyanosis , which is characterized by the appearance of a bluish color to the skin and mucous membranes;
  • Neurological lesions , which may be particularly responsible for memory problems.

In the most severe cases, hypoxia can lead to anoxia , that is, an absence of oxygen in the tissues. Anoxia is a medical emergency because it exposes the body to serious complications such as:

  • heart failure ;
  • cerebrovascular accident (CVA) ;
  • irreversible brain damage ;
  • coma .

What are the symptoms of hypoxia?

The symptoms of hypoxia are usually:

  • nausea ;
  • headache or headache
  • hyperventilation;
  • a tachycardia ;
  • Behavioral disorders.

What are the treatments for hypoxia?

The treatment of hypoxia depends on its origin, its evolution and its severity. It is usually based on the administration of oxygen, which can be done in different ways depending on the anomaly identified.

The additional supply of oxygen can be done using:

    • an oxygen mask, covering the nose and mouth, to bring oxygen to the lungs;
    • an endotracheal intubator, inserted through the mouth or nose, to maintain mechanical ventilation;
    • a tracheostomy tube, which is a tube placed at the level of the trachea by surgery to provide breathing;
  • a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which is used to supply oxygen in case of carbon monoxide poisoning

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