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Anoxic Brain Injuries

Anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen for four minutes or more, the vital cells begin to die, and after five minutes or more of deprivation permanent anoxic brain damage can occur.  The greater the deprivation of oxygen the greater the potential injury can occur to the victim causing a number of cognitive functioning problems, disabilities and severe cases death.  The injury is also commonly referred to as cerebral hypoxia or HAI (hypoxic anoxic injury).

Why The Brain Needs Oxygen:

The cells that make up your brain in the simplest terms make up an incredibly complex network of neurotransmitter connections pulsing electrochemical messages.  As we all know the brain is responsible for regulating bodily functions, emotions, behavior, responding to pain and pleasure, and accounts for the vast world of memory and imagination that you experience.  When the brain is deprived of oxygen, these vitally important cells die, disrupting the healthy behavior of neurotransmitters.  Neural pathways vital for functioning are disrupted and can cause a number of serious injuries.

What Causes Brain Anoxia:
  • Heart attack
  • Electrical shock
  • Brain tumors
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Carbon monoxide inhalation
  • Respiratory conditions affecting clear breathing
  • Extreme low blood pressure
  • Carbon monoxide inhalation
  • Poisoning
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Choking
  • Suffocation
  • Illegal drug use
  • Drowning

Cerebral anoxia consists of four types, namely: Anemic anoxia, toxic anoxia, stagnant anoxia and anoxic anoxia grouped by the fundamental cause behind the lack of oxygen reaching the brain.

Anemic anoxia is so named because it results from blood carried oxygen deficiencies brought about by a variety of causes.  The blood flow to the brain may be normal but the blood itself is not carrying enough oxygen to supply its needs leading to a slow march towards injury and function deterioration in the patient, or when the anemia is acute deterioration can occur faster.  Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a leading cause of anemic anoxia because it hinders the bloods ability to supply oxygen to the brain.

Toxic anoxia is thusly named because the lack of oxygen is directly caused by system toxins preventing the proper and healthy distribution of oxygen.  Carbon monoxide poisoning can also be considered to cause toxic anoxia.

Stagnant anoxia is a condition in which something is impeding the oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain and supplying oxygen as it should.  Strokes are the most common cause of stagnant anoxia injury, but you could classify a heart attack, or cardiac arrhythmia caused brain injuries as stagnant as well.  This condition is also commonly referred to as hypoxicischemic injury.

Anoxic anoxia is caused by a lack of oxygen in the air itself, or at least not enough for the body use properly.  This type of oxygen deprivation injury is most commonly seen at high altitudes where the air is not oxygen rich enough to support functioning.

Symptoms of Anoxic Brain Injuries

Anoxic brain injuries can vary in severity but the common symptoms can include coordination loss, muscle spasms, involuntary movement, limb weakness (quadriparesis), headaches, confusion, depression, irritability and lack of concentration.  In addition to physical symptoms sufferers of brain injury can experience short term memory loss, reasoning and executive function degradation, a loss of ability to process language properly, and visual processing problems.

The hippocampus in the brain is the region responsible for learning new information and is especially susceptible to anoxic injury.  Hypoxicschemic injury (HAI) sufferers, commonly experience short term memory loss.

Processing function degradation as a result of anoxic brain injury has been extensively researched as well.  A loss of focus, loss of decision making ability and inability to concentrate is a common occurrence.  In addition, confusion is common among sufferers, as their ability to process images and language is confused.  For example, an injured party might have a cognitive association of the image dog, referenced in the brain as horse, or other words or images simply no longer understood.

Anoxic Brain injury Treatments

The first step towards treatment of anoxic brain injuries is to properly diagnose and pinpoint the cause of injury, whether the injury is caused by toxic, stagnant, anoxic, or anemic anoxia and what the underlying cause of the oxygen deprivation is.  Determining the physical causes of oxygen deprivation determines the treatment, fixing the cause can return the healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood and thereby prevent further damage.

Anoxic brain injury typically causes an increase in temperature and measures are typically taken to keep the patient cool to prevent temperature caused brain damage.  Seizures are commonly encountered and medication and or anesthesia will be used to treat this symptom and avoid damage when necessary.  If the brain is found to be swelling, steroids can be used while barbiturates have been shown to reduce brain activity to give the tissues time to recover.

Once the patient is stabilized and any life threatening injuries have been treated rehabilitation begins.

Anoxic Brain Injury Rehabilitation

Depending on the severity of injury to the brain, rehabilitation will include therapists, doctors and specialists coming up with a customized program to the patient in an effort to bring the injured back to a maximum level of function.  Depending on the injuries suffered, you can expect prescribed therapies to include:

  • Counseling
  • Speech Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupation Therapy

This rehab period can be a difficult emotional experience for the injured as well as the loved ones supporting the efforts and hard work.  At times the rehabilitation process can be frustrating and emotionally draining for the sufferers of anoxic brain damage so it is vital to take it one step at a time.  If you have suffered an traumatic brain injury, be sure to be clear with your family and loved ones what you need for success and take advantage of the support systems being offered to support your efforts.


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