The brain is a very complex but sensitive organ. The brain requires a steady supply of oxygen and blood flow. Any reduction or cut-off of oxygen supply to the brain can lead to brain cell death and have a permanent impact on brain function.
Anoxia is a complete cut off of oxygen supply to the brain. Anoxia can be caused by a loss of pulmonary function, where the lungs are not working to inhale and absorb oxygen from the air. Anoxia can also be caused by circulatory problems, where the heart is not able to pump oxygen-rich blood to the brain, through trauma or a cut-off of blood supply.
Failure to properly diagnose and treat anoxia can result in serious injury or death. Patients who suffer an anoxic brain injury as a result of a medical mistake may have a claim for medical malpractice.
Anoxia and Brain Injury
There are a number of causes of hypoxic ischemia but the underlying physiologic process involves a reduction of blood flow to the brain and reduced blood oxygenation. When blood does not have enough oxygen, cardiac hypoxia can occur, which can reduce the amount of blood output from the heart, resulting in a reduction of blood flow to the brain.
Brain cells are highly sensitive to oxygen supply. While the brain only represents a small percentage of the human body weight, it receives 15% of the blood output and 20% of oxygen consumption. The amount of time before brain cells begin to die is measured in minutes, with a person losing consciousness within about a minute of oxygen deprivation. Injuries generally start after about 1 minute:
- 1 minute: Brain cells begin to die but survival and recovery is possible
- 3 minutes: Brain cells and neurons suffer more damage with permanent damage likely
- 10 minutes: Brain damage can be extensive and the patient is unlikely to recover
- 15 minutes: Recovery and survival is nearly impossible
There are exceptions, but most people will not be able to recover full function of their brain after only a few minutes without oxygen. Exceptions include free divers who train their bodies to up to 10 minutes or more without oxygen. Another exception may include accident victims who suffer hypothermia, such as falling through ice, which can slow the metabolic rate for glucose and oxygen.
How is Anoxic Brain Injury Different From Hypoxic Brain Injury?
Anoxia and hypoxia are related conditions and sometimes used interchangeably. Anoxic brain injury is damage caused by a total lack of oxygen supply. Hypoxic brain injury is an injury caused by a reduction of oxygen supply.
Hypoxic ischemia is a partial lack of oxygen to the brain combined with a decrease in blood flow to the brain, which can lead to brain damage. Anoxia is a lack of oxygen despite adequate blood flow to the brain.
Causes of Anoxic Brain Injuries
There may be a number of causes of anoxia and can vary based on the age of the individual. In adults, common causes of anoxia can include:
- Car accident
- Gunshot wound
- Stab wound
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Anesthesia accidents
- Drug overdose
- Anaphylactic shock
- Suicide attempt
Anoxia in infants and children can be caused by traumatic birth injury or complications involving the umbilical cord which delivers oxygen to the baby before the baby can breathe on its own.
Anoxic Brain Injury Diagnosis and Treatment
The signs and symptoms of anoxia can happen very quickly. Hypoxia, or a reduction in oxygen, can occur over time but the signs of anoxia generally occur within a matter of minutes. Signs of oxygen cut-off include:
- Unable to speak trying to communicate they cannot breath
- Loss of consciousness
For treatment of anoxia, the priority is generally to return oxygen supply to the brain. This could include clearing the person's airway, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and use of a ventilator. Once oxygen supply has returned to normal, healthcare providers may try and identify the location and extent of the damage.
Imaging can be used to identify evidence of brain cell death and brain damage, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Ultrasonography (US)
- Computed tomography (CT)
Recovery and Treatment After Anoxic Brain Injury
If the extent of brain damage was minimal (generally associated with a short term of anoxia), the patient may be able to recover some, most, or all functions. Recovery and treatment after an anoxic brain injury generally involves therapy, including:
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
- Counseling and education
- Occupational therapy
There may be short-term or long-term/permanent damage after an anoxic brain injury. The symptoms of a brain injury can depend on the extent of the damage, length of time the brain was deprived of oxygen, age of the individual, and other factors. Some of the cognitive symptoms may include:
- Short-term memory loss
- Problems with judgment, reasoning, processing new information, and impulse control
- Difficulty selecting the right words
- Changes in mood or personality
- Impaired motor skills
- Depression or anxiety
- Dementia-like symptoms
Long-term physical damage can include lack of coordination, weakness in the arms and legs, paralysis, and spasticity or rigidity disorders.
Anoxia and Birth Injuries
Anoxia can be most traumatic in birth injuries. Lack of oxygen at birth is a common birth injury and can lead to severe developmental delays. Lack of oxygen can occur during delivery, or in the womb prior to birth. Careful monitoring of the child during pregnancy, labor, and after giving birth is important to identify a possible lack of oxygen and treat the anoxia as quickly as possible.
Anoxia to the fetus or child during birth may have a number of causes, including:
- Pinching or twisting of the umbilical cord
- Umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's neck
- Difficulty passing through the birth canal
- Placental abruption
- Failure to monitor the mother or baby
An infant who suffers anoxic brain injury can suffer serious, life-long impairments, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Cognitive impairment
- Neurodevelopmental delay
- Motor Function impairment
Anoxic Brain Injury Attorneys
If your child suffered anoxia in the womb or during childbirth, the child may require life-long care. If a medical mistake or medical negligence caused a brain injury, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about holding the doctors and hospital accountable for their failures. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.