Anoxia and Hypoxia

Birth injuries are not something to take lightly. Sometimes a birth injury is so severe that a child can become permanently affected, either with cerebral palsy, with paralysis, or with a birth injury. Sometimes a birth injury is severe enough to shorten a child’s lifespan, and if the injury is too severe, a child may not live past a few days. So how do these birth injuries happen to children? One such birth injury is related to a condition called anoxia and hypoxia –something that could be one of the most dangerous and life affecting of the birth injuries.

What is Anoxia?

Anoxia is known as the absence of oxygen. Anoxia could be an environmental term, describing an environment that has no oxygen, such as anoxic waters or in space. Medically, anoxia describes the absence of oxygen with an emphasis on organs, muscle groups, or blood not getting sufficient oxygen. Cerebral anoxia is a term that describes when the brain is completely deprived of oxygen, a severe condition that often results in permanent brain damage. The opposite condition is called hyperoxia, when there is too much oxygen in the system.

What is Hypoxia?

Just as anoxia describes an absence of oxygen, so hypoxia describes low oxygen levels. Hypoxia is also used to describe environmental areas, and it is also used to describe low oxygen levels medically, sometimes only one part of the body that has a decrease in oxygen levels such as one limb. Sometimes hypoxia happens to hikers who have altitude sickness, sometimes portraying symptoms that resemble shrunken or wrinkled limbs. In infants, hypoxia can be a consequence of having a baby born pre-term, as the lungs aren’t developed enough for the baby to manage breathing on his or her own.

How Does Anoxia and Hypoxia Happen?

Unfortunately, anoxia and hypoxia are a pretty common hazard of childbirth. Sometimes during delivery, the umbilical cord can be pinched or kinked, causing the baby to stop breathing. The length of time the baby stops breathing determines the depreciated levels of oxygen, so if the baby stops breathing for only a minute or so the baby may have hypoxia, whereas a baby that has stopped breathing for close to five minutes is more likely to have anoxia. A not so common hazard of childbirth is something called a prolapsed umbilical cord, when the umbilical cord comes out of the cervix before the baby does. If that cord is pinched or kinked, the baby could be cut off from his or her oxygen supply and an emergency c-section must be administered by the doctor.

Can Anything Be Done if the Baby is Anoxic or Hypoxic?

In the past, there was nothing to stop a brain injury from developing when a baby is anoxic or hypoxic. However, now there is an experimental treatment called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. If a baby hasn’t been breathing for up to five minutes, the doctor can rush the baby off to a Hyberbaric Oxygen chamber where the child is placed in an environment of 100% oxygen. This chamber can lessen and sometimes altogether prevent brain injuries because the oxygen floods the muscles and the blood, restoring the proper levels of oxygen and bringing oxygen to brain before it seizes.

What is the Danger of Anoxia and Hypoxia?

The problem with oxygen deprivation to the brain isn’t just a matter of whether the child has oxygen or not –anoxia and hypoxia can cause brain damage. When the brain has been deprived of oxygen for a certain amount of time, the brain goes into emergency mode and starts operating at a rapid speed until it starts malfunctioning –sometimes causing seizures due to an overload of electric signals. Generally, any period of breathing is potentially dangerous to the brain, and if the child has stopped breathing for any longer than 6 minutes, he or she is medically declared brain dead.

Is There a Cure for Anoxia or Hypoxia?

If your doctor sees that the child stopped breathing for anywhere up to 5 minutes, your doctor can prevent or substantially lessen the effects of the brain damage by prescribing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. The child is put into a chamber of 100% oxygen, flooding the body with oxygen to immediately repair any oxygen-related damage. When the brain is flooded with oxygen, the brain doesn’t seem to believe its in an emergency situation any longer, and doesn’t go about processing emergency responses that cause brain damage and other birth injuries such as cerebral palsy.

What Tests Confirm My Baby Has an Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injury?

There are number of tests that can confirm an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury. These tests include a Head CT scan, an MRI, and an Electroencephalogram (EEG). Other more thorough tests include the SPECT tests, a form of CT scan that checks areas of the brain for blood flow and metabolism, and evoked potential tests, tests that evaluate the visual, auditory, and sensory pathways.

How Do I Get Care for My Baby With an Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injury?

When your child stops breathing at birth, you may have a child with an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury and should be tested immediately. This is the first most important step of care in getting your child diagnosed and checked for the birth injury. From there, it is your responsibility to make sure that the care of your child matches the recommendations of specialists, and if your baby doesn’t appear to have the signs of a birth injury, it’s important that you keep a wary observation of his or her interactions so that you can anticipate other symptoms of a brain injury.

What are the Symptoms of an Anoxic/Hypoxic Brain Injury?

If for whatever reason the tests don’t recognize that your baby has an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury, or if your baby stopped breathing for a few minutes but wasn’t tested, it’s important to watch out for a number of these symptoms. If untreated, these symptoms could get worse and damage the brain further. Symptoms to watch out for include: decline in executive functions, weakened limbs, spastic or jerky motions, and –possibly the most severe- a lack of consciousness which looks like sleep but cannot be wakened.