Cerebral hypoxia is an emergency condition that requires immediate treatment. The sooner the oxygen supply is restored to the brain, the lower the risk of severe brain damage and death.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the hypoxia. Basic life support is most important. Treatment involves:
- Breathing assistance (mechanical ventilation)
- Controlling the heart rate
- Fluids, blood products, or medications to control blood pressure
- Medications including phenytoin, phenobarbital, valproic acid, and general anesthetics to calm seizures
Sometimes cooling the person with cold blankets is used, because cooling slows down the activity of the brain cells and decreases their need for oxygen. However, the benefit of such treatment has not been firmly established.
The outlook depends on the extent of the brain injury, which is determined by how long the brain lacked oxygen.
If the brain lacked oxygen for only a very brief period of time, a coma may be reversible and the person may have some return of function. However, this depends on the extent of injury. Some patients recover many functions, but have abnormal movements such as twitching or jerking. Seizures may sometimes occur, and may be continuous (status epilepticus).
Most people who make a full recovery were only briefly unconscious.
The longer the person is unconscious, the higher the risk for death or brain death, and the lower the chances for a meaningful recovery.
Complications of cerebral hypoxia include prolonged vegetative state — basic life functions such as breathing, blood pressure, sleep-wake cycle, and eye opening may be preserved, but the person is not alert and does not respond to their surroundings. Such patients usually die within a year, although some may survive longer.
Length of survival depends partly on how much care is taken to prevent other problems. Major complications may include:
- Bed sores
- Clots in the veins (deep vein thrombosis)
- Improper nutrition
- Lung infections (pneumonia)
Calling Your Health Care Provider
Cerebral hypoxia is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if someone is losing consciousness or has other symptoms of cerebral hypoxia.
Review Date : 9/22/2008
Reviewed By : Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.