Close look on hypoxia

Hypoxia is a medical term that means “low oxygen” but defined as reduced amount of oxygen that reaches the bodily tissues. It is different from hypoxemia where there is insufficient amount of oxygen travelling in the blood.

The lack of oxygen in the tissues is called as oxygen starvation. If there is complete lack of oxygen in the tissues, it is called anoxia. Always bear in mind that hypoxia can affect the entire body or a specific organ or region. It can be categorized as acute or chronic. In acute cases, it has a rapid onset while a chronic case has been ongoing for some time.

What are the types of hypoxia?

There are various forms of hypoxia or reasons that there is not sufficient oxygen in the tissues in the body such as the following:

  • Anemic hypoxia involves reduced level of hemoglobin due to the diminished ability of the blood to transport oxygen breathed in, thus resulting to a poor supply of oxygen available to the tissues.
  • Hypoxic hypoxia causes inadequate oxygen due since there is diminished amount of oxygen in the blood flowing to the tissues. This can be triggered by inadequate breathing as well as other possible causes.
  • Stagnant (circulatory hypoxia) is triggered by poor blood flow that results to low oxygen available to the tissues.

    The individual can experience shortness of breath.

  • Histiotoxic hypoxia involves adequate oxygen is being inhaled via the lungs and delivered to the tissues but the tissues could not utilize the available oxygen.
  • Metabolic is a type that occurs once there is higher demand for oxygen by the tissues than normal. The oxygen might be absorbed, transported and utilized properly by the tissues due to a condition that increases the metabolism, but it is not enough.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypoxia?

The indications tend to vary from one individual to another and by how long the symptoms have been present. Some of the symptoms include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Headache
  • Confusion, lethargy and/or poor judgement
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tingling, warm sensations
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Euphoria and a sense of well-being
  • Lack of coordination
  • High blood pressure
  • Visual changes
  • Bluish-tinge to the extremities and lips
  • Increased red blood cell count among those with chronic hypoxia

What are the effects?

The organs typically affected include the brain, liver and the heart. In case it is severe, irreversible damage can start within 4 minutes of the onset. Coma, seizures and even death can occur in severe cases. When it comes to chronic, milder cases, it can also result to damage to the main body organs.


The management depends on the underlying cause. Oxygen therapy is usually recommended if the individual is short of breath or experiences symptoms indicative of moderate or severe hypoxia. In severe cases, a mechanical ventilator might be required.