Hypoxemia

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Definition

What is hypoxemia?

Hypoxemia occurs when levels of oxygen in the blood are lower than normal. If blood oxygen levels are too low, your body may not work properly.

Blood carries oxygen to the cells throughout your body to keep them healthy. Hypoxemia can cause mild problems such as headaches and shortness of breath. In severe cases, it can interfere with heart and brain function. Hypoxemia that causes low oxygen levels in your body’s tissues is called hypoxia. Sometimes people use the two terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Hypoxemia is determined by measuring the oxygen level in a blood sample taken from an artery (arterial blood gas). It can also be estimated by measuring the oxygen saturation of your blood using a pulse oximeter — a small device that clips to your finger.

Normal arterial oxygen is approximately 75 to 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Values under 60 mm Hg usually indicate the need for supplemental oxygen. Normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low.

How common is hypoxemia?

Hypoxemia is a common problem. It can occur in patients in any gender at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Which signs and symptoms can hypoxemia usually be associated with?

Related signs and symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Bluish color in skin, fingernails, and lips

Causes

What causes hypoxemia?

Several factors are needed to continuously supply the cells and tissues in your body with oxygen:

  • There must be enough oxygen in the air you are breathing
  • Your lungs must be able to inhale the oxygen-containing air — and exhale carbon dioxide
  • Your bloodstream must be able to circulate blood to your lungs, take up the oxygen and carry it throughout your body
  • A problem with any of these factors — for example, high altitude, asthma or heart disease — might result in hypoxemia, particularly under more extreme conditions, such as exercise or illness. When your blood oxygen falls below a certain level, you might experience shortness of breath, headache, and confusion or restlessness.

Common causes of hypoxemia include:

  • Anemia
  • ARDS (Acute respiratory distress syndrome)
  • Asthma
  • Congenital heart defects in children
  • Congenital heart disease in adults
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Emphysema
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Medications, such as certain narcotics and anesthetics, that depress breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • Pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarred and damaged lungs)
  • Sleep apnea

The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of hypoxemia. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for hypoxemia?

You are more likely to experience hypoxemia if you have any of the conditions mentioned above.

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

When to see your doctor

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you or your loved one has any of the following:

  • Severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function.
  • Severe shortness of breath with a cough, rapid heartbeat and fluid retention at high elevations (about 2,400 meters). These are signs and symptoms of fluid leaking from blood vessels into your lungs (high-altitude pulmonary edema), which can be fatal.
  • Shortness of breath after slight exertion or when you’re at rest
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise or are physically active
  • Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath or a feeling that you’re choking — these may be symptoms of sleep apnea

On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hypoxemia?

These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hypoxemia:

  • Stop smoking. If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD or another lung disease, the single most important thing you can do is to quit smoking.
  • Avoid passive smoke. Avoid places where others smoke. Secondhand smoke can cause further lung damage.
  • Get regular exercise. It may seem difficult to exercise when you have trouble breathing, but regular exercise can improve your overall strength and endurance.

In addition, it’s also recommended to practice deep breathing, adopt a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: January 11, 2019 | Last Modified: January 11, 2019

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