Hypoxia and Hypoxemia

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Hypoxia and Hypoxemia Symptoms

Cyanosis or Turning Blue

Cyanosis is a bluish color of the skin and mucous membranes due to insufficient oxygen in the blood. Symptoms and causes of cyanosis include:

  • The person's lips or fingernail beds may appear blue
  • Certain lung conditions in which lung function is compromised as asthma, COPD, and bronchitis
  • Abnormal forms of hemoglobin or other abnormalities in the blood cells

Hypoxia and hypoxemia facts

  • Hypoxia is a condition or state in which the supply of oxygen is insufficient for normal life functions; hypoxemia is a condition or state where there is a low arterial oxygen supply – in some publications these terms are used interchangeably.
  • There are a variety of causes and potential causes of any type of hypoxia.
  • Symptoms of hypoxia and/or hypoxemia may be acute or chronic and vary in intensity from mild to severe. Common acute symptoms are:
  • Severe symptoms include:
    • The inability to communicate
    • Confusion
    • Possible coma or death
    • Other associated symptoms also may be present.
  • Hypoxia or hypoxemia symptoms in children may be mouth breathing and drooling.
  • In general, hypoxia and/or hypoxemia is diagnosed by physical examination and by using oxygen monitors (pulse oximeters), determining, oxygen level in a blood gas sample and may include pulmonary function tests.
  • Treatment for hypoxia and/or hypoxemia is to give additional oxygen to the patient and into the environment or the body (blood) is quickly as possible. Techniques vary widely according to the patient's condition, but may include oxygen by face mask or nasal cannula, mechanical ventilation (intubation), hyperbaric chamber, or other devices or medicines to open airways.
  • Hypoxia and/or hypoxemia may be prevented in some individuals by avoiding circumstances that reduce oxygen concentration in the environments or by providing oxygen before symptoms develop. People with asthma can prevent hypoxia/hypoxemia symptoms by taking certain medications on a regular basis as prescribed by their doctor.

What is hypoxia and hypoxemia?

  • Hypoxia is a condition or state in which the supply of oxygen is insufficient for normal life functions.
  • Hypoxemia is a condition or state where there is a low arterial oxygen supply.
  • Hypoxia is sometimes used to describe both states (hypoxia and hypoxemia).
  • Within the body, hypoxemia can lead to hypoxia (tissue hypoxia) in various tissues and organs with the most severe being cerebral hypoxia that can rapidly result in brain damage or death.
  • Conversely, if a person experiences environmental hypoxia (low or absent oxygen in the environment from high altitudes or drowning for example), the person can develop hypoxemia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/22/2016

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