What is hypoxemia?

Hypoxemia occurs when levels of oxygen in the blood are lower than normal. If blood oxygen levels are too low, your body may not work properly.

Blood carries oxygen to the cells throughout your body to keep them healthy. Hypoxemia can cause mild problems such as headaches and shortness of breath. In severe cases, it can interfere with heart and brain function. Hypoxemia that causes low oxygen levels in your body’s tissues is called hypoxia. Sometimes people use the two terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

What causes hypoxemia?

A variety of conditions and circumstances can interfere with the body’s ability to deliver normal levels of oxygen to the blood. Some of the most common causes of hypoxemia include:

  • Heart conditions, including heart defects
  • Lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis
  • Locations of high altitudes, where oxygen in the air is lower
  • Strong pain medications or other problems that slow breathing
  • Sleep apnea (impaired breathing during sleep)
  • Inflammation or scarring of the lung tissue (as in pulmonary fibrosis)

What are the symptoms of hypoxemia?

Symptoms of hypoxemia vary depending on the severity of the condition. They include:

  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Bluish color in skin, fingernails, and lips

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