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Traumatic Brain Injury - Anoxia and Hypoxia

Karns & Kerrison

Anoxia is the total depletion of the level of oxygen in the human body. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Both anoxia and hypoxia can cause traumatic brain injury. The brain requires a constant flow of oxygen in order to function and when that flow of oxygen is disrupted the brain is starved of oxygen and prevents it from performing its biochemical processes. Hypoxia is the partial lack of oxygen and anoxia is a total lack of oxygen. In general, the more complete the deprivation of oxygen, the more severe the harm to the brain and the greater the consequences.

The diminished oxygen supply can cause serious impairments in brain function including cognitive skills as well as physical and other functions.

The brain consumes about a fifth of the body's total oxygen supply and needs energy to transmit electrochemical impulses between the cells and to maintain the ability of neurons (brain cells) to receive and respond to these signals.

The cells of the brain will start to die within a few minutes if they are deprived of oxygen. The disruption of the transmission of electrochemical impulses impacts the production and activity of neurotransmitters, which regulate many cognitive, physiological and emotional processes.

Anesthesia accidents can cause anoxia or hypoxia. Other causes can be near drowning, electrocution, chemical exposure and poisoning (including carbon monoxide poisoning). In addition, anemic anoxia can occur when a person does not have enough blood. Acute hemorrhages, wounds or injuries causing severe bleeding can cause anemic anoxia having the same result as any type of anoxia.

Symptoms are the same as in any traumatic brain injury including short term memory loss, decline in executive functions, difficulty with words and visual disturbances.

In addition, other common physical deficits from anoxia and hypoxia can be a lack of coordination (ataxia), an inability to execute familiar physical movements such as brushing teeth or eating with utensils (apraxia), jerky motions or trembling of the extremities (spasticity) or weakness of arms and legs (quadriparesis).

Diagnosis has to be done by an experienced physician such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon who can refer the patient for appropriate brain imaging tests including CT scans, MRIs, DWIs or DTIs and in addition, EEGs.

Once diagnosis is complete, treatment can be continued as in any other traumatic brain injury including neuropsychological testing to get the extent of the injury and rehabilitation including cognitive therapy.

During recovery it is extremely important for both the injured patient and family members to be involved in rehabilitation and understand that rehabilitation is often measured in small steps rather than giant leaps.

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