Cerebral hypoxia : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Hypoxic encephalopathy


Cerebral hypoxia technically means a lack of oxygen supply to the outer part of the brain, an area called the cerebral hemisphere. However, the term is more typically used to refer to a lack of oxygen supply to the entire brain.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

There are many causes of cerebral hypoxia. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Asphyxiation caused by smoke inhalation
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac arrest (when the heart stops pumping)
  • Choking
  • Complications of general anesthesia
  • Compression of the windpipe (trachea)
  • Diseases that cause a loss of movement (paralysis) of the breathing muscles
  • Drowning
  • Drug overdose
  • High altitudes
  • Injuries before, during, or soon after, birth (See: Cerebral palsy)
  • Strangulation
  • Stroke
  • Very low blood pressure

Brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation. Some brain cells actually start dying less than 5 minutes after their oxygen supply disappears. As a result, brain hypoxia can rapidly cause death or severe brain damage.

Pictures & Images

Central nervous system and peripheral nervous system

The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes all peripheral nerves.

Review Date : 9/22/2008
Reviewed By : Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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