Cerebral Hypoxia

Overview | Resources

Synonym(s): Hypoxia, Anoxia

What is Cerebral Hypoxia?

Cerebral hypoxia refers to a condition in which there is a decrease of oxygen supply to the brain even though there is adequate blood flow. Drowning, strangling, choking, suffocation, cardiac arrest, head trauma, carbon monoxide poisoning, and complications of general anesthesia can create conditions that can lead to cerebral hypoxia. Symptoms of mild cerebral hypoxia include inattentiveness, poor judgment, memory loss, and a decrease in motor coordination. Brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation and can begin to die within five minutes after oxygen supply has been cut off. When hypoxia lasts for longer periods of time, it can cause coma, seizures, and even brain death. In brain death, there is no measurable activity in the brain, although cardiovascular function is preserved. Life support is required for respiration.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the hypoxia, but basic life-support systems have to be put in place: mechanical ventilation to secure the airway; fluids, blood products, or medications to support blood pressure and heart rate; and medications to suppress seizures.

What is the prognosis?

Recovery depends on how long the brain has been deprived of oxygen and how much brain damage has occurred, although carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage days to weeks after the event. Most people who make a full recovery have only been briefly unconscious. The longer someone is unconscious, the higher the chances of death or brain death and the lower the chances of a meaningful recovery. During recovery, psychological and neurological abnormalities such as amnesia, personality regression, hallucinations, memory loss, and muscle spasms and twitches may appear, persist, and then resolve.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports and conducts studies aimed at understanding neurological conditions that can damage the brain, such as cerebral hypoxia. The goals of these studies are to find ways to prevent and treat these conditions.



Brain Injury Association of America, Inc.

1608 Spring Hill Rd Suite 110

Vienna, VA 22182

Tel: 703-761-075; 800-444-6443

Fax: 703-761-0755

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)

8400 Corporate Drive Suite 500

Landover, MD 20785

Tel: 301-459-5900; 800.346.2742; 301.459.5984(TTY)

Fax: 301-562-2401

Brain Injury Resource Center

P.O.Box 84151

Seattle, WA 98124

Tel: 206-621-8558

Fax: 206-329-4355

Brain Trauma Foundation

1 Broadway 6th Floor

New York, NY 10004-1007

Tel: 212-772-0608

Fax: 212-772-0357

Easter Seals

233 South Wacker Drive Suite 2400

Chicago, IL 60606

Tel: 312-726-6200 800-221-6827

Fax: 312-726-1494

Source: National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

© Copyright 1995-2018 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 09/10/2015