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Happy Hypoxia And COVID-19

The health effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) are still being understood by healthcare professionals dealing with the outbreak. Some aspects of the virus are baffling doctors trying to figure out how to tackle the condition and save lives. A recent study is looking at the issue of silent hypoxia, a common issue with COVID patients. 

What is Happy Hypoxia or Silent Hypoxia?

Hypoxia is a dangerous medical condition that is caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain. The brain requires a steady supply of oxygen to function and oxygen deprivation can cause the brain cells to begin to break down and die, causing permanent brain injury. Hypoxia in babies can cause hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), resulting in birth injuries in developmental problems. 

Traditional treatment for hypoxia generally involves restoring oxygenated blood supply to the affected areas, which may include supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation to get oxygen into the lungs. Doctors may intubate the patient to keep the airway open to provide oxygen. 

Silent hypoxia, also known as “happy hypoxia,” is a condition where the oxygen level in the blood is low but the patient does not feel shortness of breath. Normally, when an individual’s oxygen levels to the brain get low, it triggers a feeling of shortness of breath. In silent hypoxia, despite lower oxygen levels, the patient does not feel out of breath.

Silent Hypoxia in COVID Patients

In a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers looked at silent hypoxia in COVID-19 patients. Patients with coronavirus show low levels of oxygen that would normally present with difficulty breathing. Instead, some coronavirus patients show no signs of dyspnea and may be able to carry on a normal conversation up until the point they are intubated and put on a mechanical ventilator.

According to the study, several pathophysiological mechanisms account for the 16 cases reviewed. Pulse oximeters measure oxygen saturation through the finger. However, these measurements may be inaccurate when oxygen readings are low, possibly underreporting oxygen saturation levels. 

Many of the COVID patients also have low levels of corresponding carbon dioxide, which may reduce the impact of low oxygen levels. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Martin J. Tobin, “It is also possible that the coronavirus is exerting a peculiar action on how the body senses low levels of oxygen,”

These findings may be important for doctors to evaluate the need for endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. Intubation can present its own risks of injury or harm to patients, including: 

  • Brain damage from lack of oxygen
  • Tooth damage
  • Damage to the esophagus
  • Infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Cardiac arrest

Help After a Medical Malpractice Injury

If a loved one was injured or died as a result of negligent medical care, it is important to pursue a malpractice claim to hold the doctors and hospitals accountable for their actions. Filing a claim for damages may be the only way for the hospital to acknowledge the problem and help other families avoid a similar tragedy. 

If you have questions about negligent medical care that caused an injury, contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation. Fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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