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Oxygen and the Human Brain

The human brain is very fragile. Unlike other parts of the body, even the smallest injuries to the brain can maim or kill a person. This is partially because the brain controls every other function of the human body. For all the work it does, the brain requires a lot of oxygen. Without oxygen, irreversible brain damage and death can occur within minutes.

How Long Can Your Brain Survive Without Oxygen?

The length of time a brain can survive without oxygen varies greatly depending on a number of factors including a patient’s age, overall health, and body temperature. The University of Michigan Transplant Center offers a general timeline:

  • 1 minute: Brain cells begin to die
  • 3 minutes: Serious brain damage is likely
  • 10 minutes: Many brain cells have died, irreversible brain damage has occurred
  • 15 minutes: Recovery is virtually impossible

The Aftermath

One of the most common complications from cerebral hypoxia/anoxia is a prolonged vegetative state. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in this case, a person may have basic life functions such as breathing, blood pressure, sleep-wake cycle, and eye opening, but is otherwise not alert and does not respond to his/her surroundings. This can lead to:

  • Bed sores
  • Clots in the veins (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Lung infections (pneumonia)
  • Malnutrition

According to NIH, “if the brain lacked oxygen for only a very brief period of time, a coma may be reversible and the person may have a full or partial return of function.” Even if the person avoids comatose, long term effects can include:

  • Abnormal movements such as twitching or jerking (myoclonus)
  • Seizures (status epilepticus)

Patients who experience brain damage from hypoxia or anoxia may require lifelong treatment for their conditions. This can include:

  • Breathing assistance (mechanical ventilation)
  • Controlling the heart rate and rhythm
  • Fluids, blood products, or medications to raise blood pressure if it is low
  • Medications including phenytoin, phenobarbital, valproic acid, or general anesthetics to calm seizures
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Thomas J. Henry is a personal injury law firm with offices in Corpus Christi, Texas and Houston, Texas representing accident victims nationwide. Our priority is to provide our clients with the best legal representation. Our experienced trial attorneys are committed to defending your rights in personal injury matters including defective products, trucking accidents, maritime accidents, and other catastrophic accidents.

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