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Oxygen and the Human Brain

susan_harr5 years ago

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
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