Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Absence or almost complete absence of oxygen from inspired gases, arterial blood, or tissues; to be differentiated from hypoxia.

Anoxia is an extreme form of hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the blood) in which there is a complete lack of oxygen supply to the body as a whole or to a specific organ or tissue region. Anoxia can result from inadequate amounts of oxygen in the air, such as at high altitudes, from an inability of your blood to load and carry oxygen to tissues and organs, from the inability of the heart to pump and distribute the oxygenated blood adequately, or from respiratory failure that prevents the blood from picking up oxygen in the lungs.


Anoxia can affect any tissue or organ in your body and is always serious. However, cerebral anoxia, or a lack of oxygen supply to the brain, is particularly threatening because brain cells begin to die within several minutes of oxygen deprivation.

This disease may occur in anyone, but it is more likely to occur in babies during birth and older people who are at higher risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Anoxia may be caused by a lack of oxygen or the presence of other chemicals in the air that affect the ability of your blood to load oxygen. These environmental effects may be caused by factors including:

    Carbon monoxide.

  • High altitude.

  • Smoke.

Certain underlying diseases or conditions can lead to an insufficient uptake or delivery of oxygen to tissues and organs, leading to this disease. These conditions include:

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease; a severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability).

  • Cardiac arrest.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis).

  • Heart failure.

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack).

  • Respiratory failure.

  • Severe asthma and allergies.

  • Stroke.

Anoxia may also be caused by other conditions or events including:


  • Complications of anesthetics.

  • Drowning.

  • Drug overdose.

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension).

  • Strangulation.

  • Suffocation.

  • Trauma to a tissue or organ.

Anoxia is a serious condition that should always be treated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, are experiencing any of the symptoms of anoxia, such as altered thought processes, dizziness, breathing difficulties, or confusion.


Symptoms of anoxia are serious and will begin to appear within minutes. Milder symptoms could indicate a hypoxic event that could lead to anoxia and should be immediately treated in an emergency setting.

Most symptoms of anoxia are severe. However, this disease typically begins with milder symptoms including:

    Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails.

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment.

  • Dizziness.

  • Poor decision-making.

  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath.


Anoxia can usually be diagnosed based on the person's medical history and a physical exam. Tests are done to determine the cause of the anoxia, and may include:

    Blood tests, including arterial blood gases (ABGs) and blood chemical levels.

  • CT scan of the head.

  • Echocardiogram.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG), a measurement of the heart's electrical activity.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG), a test of brain waves that can identify seizures and show how well brain cells work.

  • Evoked potentials, a test that determines whether certain sensations such as vision and touch reach the brain.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head.

If only blood pressure and heart function remain, the brain may be completely dead.


The treatment of anoxia depends on its severity and the amount of damage to the tissue or organ that experienced the anoxia. In general, treatment for anoxia includes restoring the oxygen supply, through either increasing the amount of oxygen taken in, such as with an oxygen mask, or assistance with breathing. Other treatment options include:

    Administration of fluids and medication to increase blood pressure.

  • Administration of medications to reduce seizure activity.

  • Administration of medications to regulate heart function.

  • Application of life support systems.

NOTE: The above information is for processing purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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