Anoxia and hypoxia are both terms that refer to the lack of oxygen to the brain. Many times these terms are used interchangeably. It is a matter of degree with anoxia referring to brain damage caused by a total lack of oxygen to the brain and hypoxia referring to a decrease or limited amount of oxygen reaching the brain.
CAUSES OF HYPOXIA/ANOXIA
Any event that interrupts breathing or circulation of blood can cause hypoxia/anoxia. The best known example is cardiac arrest, when the heart stops pumping blood. It takes just a few minutes of cardiac arrest to cause brain injury, and in some cases even less time depending on the circumstances. Anoxic and hypoxic brain injury can be can be caused by brain trauma as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, drowning, choking, suffocation, head trauma, severe bleeding, drops in blood pressure and stroke. Anesthesia errors and other surgical errors are also frequently causes of diminished blood supply to the brain resulting in anoxic brain damage. Brain damage as a result of lack of oxygen is also seen in newborns, frequently as a result of medical negligence in the delivery of the baby.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BREAIN?
In the presence of hypoxia/anoxia, cell death occurs throughout the brain. However, some areas of the brain are more sensitive to hypoxia/anoxia because of higher metabolism (greater use of oxygen) or the presence of certain neurotransmitters. Areas in which there is often more extensive injury include the cortex (the outer surface of the brain), the hippocampus, the basal ganglia, and the cerebellum.
PROBLEMS WITH HYPOXIA/ANOXIA
If hypoxia/anoxia is extended, the person may die or not regain consciousness due to the extent of the brain disorder. For those who do recover, there are often problems related to the brain injury, particularly in those areas most sensitive to lack of oxygen. Injury to these areas may cause a person to move in an uncoordinated fashion such that it might be difficult for them to walk or use their hands. Their movements appear jerky and there may be a tremor. Balance can also be affected.
Injury to the hippocampus is also common in hypoxia/ anoxia and results in memory difficulties. The type of memory disturbance that most commonly occurs is known as anterograde amnesia. This means that the person cannot record new information into memory so there is limited or no recall of events that have happened since the hypoxic/anoxic event. Over half of people experiencing hypoxia/anoxia exhibit memory problems.
Case studies indicate that progress occurs, but in many cases significant problems persist that impact the ability to return to independent living, school, or work. Much of this depends on the extent of the brain disorder. In general, there are no cells in the brain to replace the cells lost due to hypoxia/anoxia. The brain tries to recover by generating new connections between the surviving cells, but this is unlikely to be substantial in cases of extended hypoxia/anoxia. In some areas, including the basal ganglia and hippocampus, it is difficult for the brain to create new connections. As a result the difficulties a person exhibits at 3-6 months after an episode of hypoxia/anoxia often persist. It is possible that medications may lessen the problems with movement and even memory in some cases, but this does not change the underlying brain disorder. Rapid recovery of physical and cognitive abilities within the first month after a hypoxic/anoxic episode is usually a predictor of a good outcome.
BRAIN INJURY ATTORNEYS WITH KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE
The members of our litigation team are familiar with brain damage caused by anoxia and hypoxia and the causes of these devastating brain injuries. We are prepared to provide legal assistance when these conditions were caused by negligence or medical malpractice. We are experienced in representing individuals and their families for the brain damage that may occur when the brain is deprived of oxygen. We have successfully represented people whose brain injury resulted from medical malpractice, including anesthesia malpractice, obstetrical malpractice and surgical malpractice.
If a loved one of yours suffers from an anoxic or hypoxic brain injury, please contact our office and speak with a member of the firm. The applicable statute of limitations is likely already running, so timing can be critically important to your case. Contact us today for a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
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Raynes Erickson, Attorneys at Law focuses its practice on the legal representation of clients who are victims of medical malpractice, catastrophic injury, or wrongful death. Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights and how our litigation team can help you receive the compensation you deserve.