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What You Should Know about Anoxic and Hypoxic Brain Injury

different brain injuries

Hypoxic-anoxic injury, known as HAI, is what happens when the flow of oxygen to the brain is interrupted. This lack of oxygen starves the brain and prevents it from functioning properly. Hypoxic is a reduction of oxygen to the brain and anoxic is a total lack of oxygen to the brain. Although this type of brain injury is not related directly related to structural injuries that occur from head injuries, it’s very important to shed some light on these type of brain injuries.

Facts about HAI

Some of the causes of anoxic and hypoxic brain injury can include stroke, exposure to or inhalation of carbon monoxide, drug overdose, near drowning, heart attack, strangulation, accidents involving anesthesia, and poisoning. HAI can also follow a traumatic brain injury – for example, if the brain begins to swell, it can make it difficult for oxygen to reach the brain.

Severe oxygen restriction can cause coma or death, and there is a three- to four-minute window in which emergency medical professionals can restore oxygen to the brain without risking serious injuries.

Diagnosis is usually quite simple, and treatment varies depending on the cause and circumstances. Patients should be brought to a medical care facility immediately, where they will be admitted to an intensive care unit. They will be given a ventilator and professionals will monitor the patient’s heartbeat and blood pressure. Seizures, sometimes prolonged, are common. Some treatments involve therapeutic hypothermia, in which patients are medically cooled down. The belief is this can protect the brain and aid recovery.

Outcomes vary from patient to patient. Factors contributing to the outcome include the patient’s age, how long the patient was in a coma, reactions of pupils, EEG, CT and MRI results, and other factors.

Many patients go on to participate in rehabilitation, but results can vary. If a patient shows significant progress within the first month, that’s usually a very good sign. The first six months are a time of great progress. Generally, after a year, medical professionals can assess the patient’s outlook.

How to Avoid Anoxic and Hypoxic Injury

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and be sure it’s in good working condition.
  • Never use a camp stove (even Sterno) inside the home.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, garage, attic, shed, or any enclosed area – even if the windows are open and/or you use a fan.
  • Be sure your generator is outside and at least ten feet away from your home.
  • Leave the house if you or anyone in your home starts to feel sick or dizzy. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, but you can feel its dangerous effects.
  • Check your fireplace – be sure the flue is open and there is nothing blocking it before you start a fire.
  • Have a chimney sweep inspect and clean your chimney annually.
  • Never leave anyone in the car with the car running if the tail pipe is blocked – watch out for snowbanks.
  • Never leave your car running with the garage door closed.
  • Keep poisons out of reach of children and animals, well-labeled and locked.
  • Keep medicines in their original containers. Keep them locked up and have the number for poison control handy, as well as syrup of ipecac, which can help induce vomiting for someone who has taken a poison or drug.
  • Supervise children at all times while swimming and/or bathing.
  • Keep a fence around your pool.
  • Call 911 as soon as you suspect a problem.
  • If you or anyone in your family is experiencing depression and seems suicidal, seek help and do your best never to leave them alone.

Anoxic and hypoxic injury has many serious consequences. Sometimes there are ways to prevent these injuries; sometimes there is nothing you can do. The most important thing is to seek medical help as soon as possible in hope that your loved one can recover as soon as possible.

Cynthia Stein, PT, MEd.
Cynthia Stein, PT, MEd.

A physical therapist and educator, Cynthia graduated with a BS in physical therapy from the University of Pittsburgh and a masters in exercise physiology from Temple University. She served as a staff physical therapist at the Annapolis Naval Hospital and chief physical therapist at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital.

She owned and operated Squirrel Hill Physical Therapy in Pittsburgh PA for 30 years. She is extensively trained in osteopathic techniques, Myofascial Release, Lymphatic Drainage, Nasal Release Technique, and PEMF. She sees patients privately and teaches continuing education for health care practitioners around the world. Visit for more information.

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