Anoxic Brain Damage

Overview

Definition

Anoxic brain damage (ABD) is harm to the brain due to a lack of oxygen. Brain cells without enough oxygen will start to die after about four minutes.

Progression of Anoxic Brain Damage
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Causes

Oxygen is carried to the brain in the blood. ABD is when:

  • Blood flow is blocked or slowed due to:
    • A clot or stroke
    • Shock and heart problems, like a heart attack
  • Blood flow is normal, but the blood doesn’t have enough oxygen due to:
    • Lung disease
    • A lack of oxygen in the air, which may happen at high altitudes
    • Being around certain poisons, such as carbon monoxide
    • An event that is stopping breathing, such as drowning, choking, or suffocation

Risk Factors

Problems that may raise the risk of ABD are:

  • Sudden cardiac arrest or heart attack
  • Choking
  • Suffocation
  • Drowning
  • Electrical shock
  • Broken gas appliances that discharge carbon monoxide
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Stroke
  • Drug use

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Headache
  • Problems with thinking and focus
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Clumsiness
  • Coma
  • A decline in brain function days or weeks after the event (rare)

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a doctor who treats brain problems.

These tests may be done to find out more about problems with brain function:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)—a test that measures the electricity in the brain
  • SPECT scans—a type of CT scan that looks at parts of the brain
  • Evoked potential tests—tests used to check the senses

Treatments

Treatment

Initial Treatment

Treatment will depend on the cause. Choices are:

  • Oxygen to raise the amount of oxygen in the blood
  • Medicine to help get enough blood with oxygen to the brain
  • Cooling the brain to limit problems

Rehabilitation

Recovery can take months or years. It depends on how long a person went without oxygen. Many people can get back most of the abilities they lost.

These therapies may be needed:

  • Physical therapy to retrain motor skills, such as walking
  • Occupational therapy to relearn daily skills, such as dressing and going to the bathroom
  • Speech therapy to work on language problems
  • Counseling for behavior and emotional issues

Prevention

ABD is often caused by accidents. These cannot always be prevented.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Anoxic Brain Injury; Hypoxic Brain Injury)

RESOURCES

Brain Injury Association of America http://www.biausa.org 

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke http://www.ninds.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Ontario Brain Injury Association http://obia.ca 

Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca 

References

Cerebral hypoxia information page. National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Cerebral-Hypoxia-Information-Page. Accessed June 18, 2018.

Rubinos C, Ruland S. Neurologic complications in the intensive care unit. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2016;16(6):57.