Hypoxic brain injuries – often referred to as Cerebral Hypoxia – can be caused by many different factors. They also have many different stages of severity. Something as simple as fainting is actually a mild case of cerebral hypoxia, and a more serious example would be strangulation. In any case, cerebral hypoxia refers to the brain not receiving or being able to process enough oxygen.
The brain requires oxygen at all times in order to operate efficiently. Otherwise, it will shut down, possibly leading to strokes, brain damage, and even death. Being that these circumstances are avoidable and undesirable, it is essential to be educated on and aware of the causes of cerebral hypoxia, as it can help save lives and avoid serious longterm injury.
It’s first important to know the four different categories of cerebral hypoxia, which are diffuse cerebral hypoxia, focal cerebral ischemia, cerebral infarction, and global cerebral ischemia. Diffuse cerebral hypoxia is the mildest form, followed by focal cerebral ischemia and cerebral infarction, with Global Cerebral Ischemia being the most severe.
Diffuse cerebral hypoxia is rarely life threatening. It just means that there are low levels of oxygen in the blood. However, that doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. There is always the chance that the condition can worsen. As with most things, it’s better to play it safe for the sake of the victim’s health and well-being.
Focal cerebral ischemia is a bit more serious. At this stage, the victim could suffer something as serious as a stroke, but rarely brain damage or death. This is because the reduction of oxygen from the blood to the brain is specific to one area of the brain.
Cerebral infarction is very serious. At this stage, strokes and brain damage are common, and the damage is not fixable. The difference between this stage and the focal cerebral ischemia stage is that at during a cerebral infarction there is absolutely no oxygen making its way from the blood to the brain. It’s a generalized issue, not a specific one.
Global cerebral ischemia is the highest category of cerebral hypoxia and often results in serious brain damage or death. At this stage, not only is there not enough oxygen making its way from the blood to the brain, but none of the blood itself is making it to the brain.
Regardless of the category of hypoxic brain injury, the causes can be both internal and external. Mild cases can be caused by a plethora of reasons. The good news is that if caution is taken, these cases can be avoidable in many situations. One of the few instances in which you cannot prevent a mild case of cerebral hypoxia is if the victim is already suffering from a disease that affects breathing and/or blood oxygen levels. Some examples are asthma and anemia.
An example of a very common cause of preventable cerebral hypoxia is the lack of proper acclimatization by mountain climbers. While most climbers take the proper precautions, unfortunately, some do not. At high levels of elevation, judgment can be skewed, and other unexpected factors can play a role in maintaining good health. Even if someone does suffer for a case of cerebral hypoxia on a mountain, it is possible to keep the effects minimized, but only if it’s taken care of quickly.
Another situation in which cerebral hypoxia can be avoided is with deep water divers and the affects of oceanic pressure. Deep water divers also have to acclimatize themselves, in this case due to water pressure and not thin air. Once they’re acclimated, they’re fine, and it’s often not the depth they travel to as much as it is how fast they come up. The most common cause for cerebral hypoxia is panic. Either the water is too rough, or more likely a lack of sufficient oxygen can cause an alarmingly rapid rise to the surface. While many cases are mild, there have also been way too many that have resulted in death.
More severe cases are often caused by accident or related to violent and/or criminal activity. Such examples are intentional drowning, strangulation, smoke inhalation, and drug overdose.
While some cases of cerebral hypoxia are obviously unavoidable, there are many that can be prevented. That’s why it’s so important to be well informed.