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