Hypoxia is a condition of low oxygen levels in the body's cells. As a result, cells in all parts of the body cannot function normally. Hypoxia needs to be watched out for, because if left unchecked, this condition can cause tissue death and organ damage.

Normally, the oxygen obtained from the breathing process will be transported by the blood from the lungs to the heart. Furthermore, the heart will pump oxygen-rich blood to all body cells through blood vessels.

Hypoxia occurs when oxygen does not get to the cells in the body. This results in decreased oxygen levels in the body's organs and is followed by the appearance of various complaints and symptoms.

Although they sound similar, hypoxia is not the same as hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is a condition when oxygen levels in the blood are low. Hypoxemia conditions can progress to hypoxia.

Causes of Hypoxia

Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of conditions. The following are diseases and medical conditions that can cause hypoxia:

  • Lung diseases , such as bronchitis, COPD, pulmonary hypertension , pulmonary edema, emphysema, pneumonia, pneumothorax, lung cancer, and COVID-19
  • Heart disease , such as bradycardia, ventricular fibrillation, congestive heart failure, or coronary heart disease
  • Blood disorders, such as anemia or methemoglobinemia
  • Infections that cause sepsis
  • Poisoning, such as cyanide poisoning or CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning
  • An injury that causes a large amount of bleeding
  • Use of drugs, such as fentanyl or anesthetic drugs
  • Diseases caused by altitude or altitude sickness
  • Lack of oxygen due to being trapped in a fire, being in a place with cold temperatures, or drowning

Hypoxia Types

Based on the cause of the lack of oxygen in the body, hypoxia can be divided into several types, namely:

  • Hypoxia hypoxia (hypoxemia hypoxia), which is caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood due to disorders of the respiratory tract
  • Histotoxic hypoxia, which occurs when the body's cells cannot use the available oxygen, one of which is due to cyanide poisoning
  • Metabolic hypoxia, which occurs when more oxygen is needed by the body's cells than usual, one of which is due to sepsis
  • Stagnant hypoxia, caused by a lack of blood supply, for example due to shock from bleeding
  • Anemic hypoxia, which is caused by a lack of hemoglobin in red blood cells, one of which is due to anemia

Apart from the causes and types above, there are several conditions that can put a person at greater risk of experiencing hypoxia, namely hypotension , asthma, and ALS .

Hypoxia Symptoms

Each person with hypoxia can experience different symptoms. These symptoms can appear suddenly and get worse quickly (acute) or develop slowly (chronic).

The following are some common symptoms of hypoxia:

  • Breathing quickens
  • Hard to breathe
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • The heartbeat becomes fast or becomes slow
  • Skin, nails, and lips are bluish ( cyanosis ) or dark red like cherries
  • Weak
  • dazed
  • Lost consciousness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cough
  • Hard to talk

When to see a doctor

Immediately do an examination to the doctor if you experience the complaints mentioned above. Early examination and treatment is necessary to prevent complications.

If you see someone feeling short of breath or having difficulty breathing, is weak, suddenly unable to speak, confused, or has a seizure, immediately take him to the emergency room to receive medical treatment.

Hypoxia Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about the patient's complaints, as well as health conditions or diseases that have been suffered by the patient.

After that, the doctor will examine the patient for signs of hypoxia, for example by assessing the level of consciousness, looking at the color of the lips and the tips of the nails, and checking blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate.

While carrying out the examination, the doctor will carry out initial treatment to stabilize the patient's condition.

To diagnose hypoxia and find out the cause, the doctor will carry out the following supporting examinations:

  • Oximetry test, to monitor oxygen levels in the blood with a device clamped to the finger ( pulse oximeter )
  • Complete blood test , to look for signs of anemia or infection
  • Pulmonary function tests , to check whether the lungs are functioning normally
  • Blood gas analysis , to evaluate metabolism and respiration, as well as possible poisoning
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG), to see signs of heart damage or irregular heartbeats
  • X-ray or CT scan of the chest, to see abnormalities in the lungs, such as a pneumothorax or lung infection
  • CT scan or MRI of the head, to see abnormalities in the brain, such as tumors, strokes, or bleeding
  • Echocardiography , to monitor the structure and condition of the heart so that damage or abnormalities in the heart or heart valves can be detected

Hypoxia Treatment

Hypoxia treatment aims to restore the supply of oxygen to the body's cells so that the body's organs can work properly and organ death does not occur. Treatment of hypoxia is also aimed at addressing the underlying cause.

Several treatment methods that can be used to treat hypoxia are:


Giving oxygen aims to increase oxygen levels in the patient's body. Supplemental oxygen therapy can be given through:

  • Mask or nasal tube, the selection of which will be adjusted to the patient's condition and the oxygen level to be achieved
  • Hyperbaric therapy , for severe tissue hypoxia or carbon monoxide poisoning patients
  • Breathing apparatus ( ventilator ), for severe hypoxia with difficulty breathing


Doctors can also provide drugs to treat causes of hypoxia. Some of the drugs that can be prescribed are:

  • Inhalers or asthma medications, to treat asthma attacks
  • Corticosteroid class of drugs , to relieve inflammation in the lungs
  • Antibiotics , to treat bacterial infections
  • Anti-seizure drugs, to relieve seizures

Hypoxia Complications

A decrease in oxygen levels that is not immediately resolved can lead to shock , organ hypoxia, and lack of oxygen in the brain (cerebral hypoxia). As a result, organ failure and brain damage can occur.

In addition to causing a decrease in consciousness, brain damage can make the sufferer experience permanent disability, even death.

Hypoxia Prevention

Hypoxia is difficult to prevent because it can occur unexpectedly. However, there are efforts you can take to reduce the risk of hypoxia, including:

  • Use asthma medications regularly.
  • Do breathing exercises.
  • Avoid climbing to a certain height quickly, to prevent altitude sickness.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, drinking enough water, and stopping smoking.
  • Check regularly with your doctor if you have a medical condition or disease that can increase your risk of hypoxia.

Apart from doing the things above, you need to see a doctor if you have had direct contact with a person with COVID-19, especially if you have symptoms of COVID-19 .

If you have COVID-19 and are self-isolating, you need to periodically check your oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter . The aim is as early detection so that if there is a worsening can immediately consult a doctor.

Back to blog