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Anoxic Brain Injury: What It is and How It is Treated

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Anoxic brain injury is a type of brain injury in which the brain becomes damaged from an inadequate supply of oxygen. If it is hypoxic, the brain only has a partial loss of oxygen, but if anoxic, there is a complete lack of oxygen going to the brain.

Without oxygen, the brain cells become damaged. The Mount Sinai Hospital noted that at about four minutes without oxygen, the brain cells begin to die.

Several factors can cause not enough oxygen to reach the brain. For example, if a clot is interfering in the blood’s flow to the brain, the brain will not get the oxygen it needs from the blood. A lack of oxygen to the brain can also occur if the blood to the brain does not carry enough oxygen, such as with exposure to certain toxins like carbon monoxide.

Individuals with certain health conditions have an increased risk of having anoxic brain injury. These include patients who have had cardiac arrest, brain tumors, heart attack, heart arrhythmia or stroke. Choking, electric shock, suffocation and near-drowning can also increase the risk. Certain lifestyle choices, such as drug use, increase an individual’s risk of having anoxic brain injury.

Anoxic brain injury can cause several symptoms. For example, patients who have had an anoxic brain injury may have cognitive problems, such as short-term memory loss or difficulty with words.

Physical issues may also arise after the brain damage, such as weakness in the arms and legs or a lack of coordination. The Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center noted that anoxic brain injury may cause personality changes, depression, hallucination and delusions, or trouble concentrating.

When treating an anoxic brain injury, the initial treatment may involve barbiturates, which would slow down the activity in the brain, according to The Mount Sinai Hospital. If the cause of the anoxia was carbon monoxide poisoning, the patient may undergo hyperbaric oxygen treatment, in which the patient is in a sealed chamber and inhales 100 percent oxygen.

If there is swelling in the brain, patients may be given steroids. After initial treatment, patients may undergo different types of rehabilitation to help with affected function. They may take additional medications to help with symptoms such as seizures and muscle jerks.


The Mount Sinai Hospital. Anoxic Brain Damage. Web. 13 March 2012

The Mount Sinai Hospital. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Web. 13 March 2012

Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center. Fact Sheet: Hypoxic-Anoxic Brain Injury. Web. 13 March 2012

Reviewed March 13, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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