Anoxic and Hypoxic Brain Injury: a Comparison

The Difference Between Anoxic and Hypoxic Brain Injury

brain injuries

More than 5.3 million (or 1 in 60) people in the U.S. are currently living with a brain injury-related disability. A brain injury occurs when trauma, illness, or health condition causes changes to the brain’s physical functions, metabolic activity, or neural activity that limit brain and nerve function. However, not all brain injuries are the same. They can occur at any time in life and can happen due to a multitude of reasons (e.g., injury, illness, disease, genetics, etc.).

With multiple categories and causes of brain injury, it can be challenging for a patient or family member to understand what type of brain injury they have or what that really means. That is especially true for understanding an anoxic vs. hypoxic brain injury. Let’s look at what those conditions mean, how they relate, and how they differ.

Anoxic Brain Injury vs Hypoxic: Related But Different

The suffix “-oxia” or “-oxic” refers to oxygen, meaning that both anoxic and hypoxic are medical terms referring to problems with the supply of oxygen.

What is hypoxic brain injury? The prefix “hypo-” means something is “beneath,” “under,” or “less.” Therefore, hypoxia or hypoxic refers to having limited or restricted oxygen. A hypoxic brain injury occurs due to limited or restricted blood flow or oxygen delivery to brain cells resulting in cellular damage or death.

What is anoxic brain injury? “An-” as a prefix means something is “not” or “without.” Therefore, anoxia or anoxic refers to having a complete lack of oxygen. An anoxic brain injury occurs due to a complete absence of blood flow or oxygen delivery to brain cells resulting in tissue damage or death.

While both conditions relate to a lack of sufficient oxygen supply to the brain, hypoxia refers to receiving some, but insufficient, oxygen while anoxia refers to not receiving any oxygen at all. Both conditions can lead to swelling of the brain, damage to cerebral blood vessels, and brain tissue death or damage. All of these effects can profoundly impact parts of the brain that can control movement, coordination, speech, cognition, emotional regulation, and sensation, as well as automatic body functions our brain controls without us thinking like hormonal control, temperature regulation, heart rate, breathing, and more.

Oxygen: Fuel for Your Brain

Oxygen is vital to keeping your brain cells alive, healthy, and functioning. It allows your nerves to send messages throughout your body. Some experts estimate that our brains alone use one-fifth of our body’s oxygen supply.

Our brain cells receive oxygen through an intricate network of blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to our brains. Without enough oxygen, these cells can become damaged in 1 to 2 minutes and begin to die after 4 to 5 minutes. After 10 minutes, a person is at significant risk for brain death. And after 15 minutes, up to 95% of all brain cells could be impacted.

The underlying reasons your brain may be experiencing oxygen deprivation are usually grouped into four main categories:

  • Stagnant Anoxia: Adequate blood flow cannot reach the brain.
  • Anemic Anoxia: The body’s blood is not carrying enough oxygen to appropriately supply the brain.
  • Anoxic Anoxia: There is a lack of oxygen in the air supply.
  • Toxic Anoxia: Toxins or poisons are limiting the body’s ability to process oxygen.

When impaired oxygen or blood flow to the brain is suspected, it is imperative to immediately take efforts to restore oxygen to preserve brain tissue health and maximize recovery potential.

What Causes an Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injury?

Like most brain injuries, there are a tremendous number of injuries, illnesses, conditions, and other factors that could cause both hypoxic and anoxic brain damage. Anything that may impact your breathing pattern, limit your body’s ability to process/carry oxygen, or limit your access to oxygen-rich air supplies could contribute to an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury. Here are some commonly reported events and medical conditions that can contribute to anoxic and hypoxic brain injuries:

  • Insufficient breathing patterns due to choking, strangulation, drowning, suffocation, etc.
  • Insufficient oxygen supply or oxygen intake due to poor air quality, carbon monoxide exposure, smoke exposure, exposure to excessively high altitudes, etc.
  • Medical conditions or adverse interventions including stroke, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, respiratory illnesses or diseases, certain metabolic conditions, asthma, hypotension, negative reactions to medications (anesthesia, sedatives, paralytics), etc.
  • Injury to blood vessels, brain structures, or other organs that control breathing, blood flow, and oxygen delivery due to a fall, car accident, jolt or blow to the head, gunshot wound, sports-related injury, etc.
  • Other common causes may include prescription drug overdose, illicit substance use, or alcohol abuse.

Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injury Symptoms

The most reported signs of oxygen deprivation include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory or attention problems
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Facial drooping
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Discoloration or turning blue (cyanosis)
  • Impaired balance
  • Impaired movement or walking
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Headache
  • Seizure

If you notice these or other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Acting quickly can minimize the severity or long-term effects of limited or lack of oxygen to the brain.

Legal Considerations and Brain Injury

Your health or your family member’s health and recovery should be the most important thing after experiencing a brain injury. Seek the necessary and recommended medical care immediately. After reporting any incidents or claims, such as a slip and fall or car accident, to your insurance provider, get in touch with an experienced attorney to learn about your legal options.

The journey after brain injury can be long, complicated, and expensive all while heading towards an unknown future. Along with the emotional pain and grief often felt after injury, you and your family may face tremendous financial strain, loss of work and earnings, psychological distress, permanent disability, and years of medical and rehabilitative interventions to restore and improve quality of life. This can be extremely costly and time-consuming both financially and emotionally.

Recovering damages related to a brain injury requires a strong legal case to prove an injury resulted directly from someone else’s negligence. You deserve to partner with a knowledgeable attorney who can help to minimize and navigate the stress of pursuing legal action so that you can remain focused on what matters most: recovery, health/wellness, and quality of life.

Contact Zirkin & Schmerling’s Maryland Brain Injury Attorneys

If you or a loved one has experienced an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury, Zirkin & Schmerling at Law is here to help. Contact one of our excellent Maryland traumatic brain injury attorneys today to see how we can support you and your family.

Contact us online or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys today.