Anoxic Brain Damage



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 does not have enough oxygen due to:
    • Lung disease
    • A lack of oxygen in the air—this 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



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 (this is rare)


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A doctor who treats brain problems may need to be seen.

These tests may be done to find out more about problems with how the brain is working:

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



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


Getting better 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


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.