Hypoxic Brain Injuries


Every cell of the human body requires oxygen to function properly. A child’s brain is particularly in need of oxygen, as going without oxygen for a few minutes due to a traumatic brain injury can cause significant damage. When the brain gets insufficient oxygen before birth due to a mother’s injury or drug use, or after birth as a result of near drowning, cardiac arrest or other tragedy, hypoxic brain injury can occur. A complete lack of oxygen to the brain is called anoxic injury. Sometimes, these names are used interchangeably.


  • Anoxic brain injury develops if the brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs.
  • Hypoxic brain injury occurs when oxygen restriction gradually leads to brain cell death.


Following a hypoxic brain injury, the following may arise:

  • Abnormal movements, such as tremors
  • Emotional issues, including depression
  • Frustration
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Weakness in the extremities


Because hypoxic brain injury results from tragic events, parents can take steps to prevent it. Some strategies include wearing seatbelts, surrounding pools with child-proof fences and requiring helmet use during sports or bike rides.

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to illicit substances while in utero
  • Heart attack
  • Lack of supervision when near or in water


  • Medical history and symptom review. A detailed review of the child’s medical history and symptoms is taken.
  • Physical examination. Along with a visual review of the child, blood tests can help determine the extent of hypoxic brain injuries.
  • Imaging tests. For a clearer picture of damage done by hypoxic brain injury, imaging tests may be required. Some of the most common include CT and MRI, as well as an angiogram of the brain to determine brain function.


The type of treatment depends on the cause of the injury.

  • Basic life support including IV fluids, heart rate control, breathing assistance and oxygen are used on comatose patients.
  • Medication can help calm seizures that may accompany the event.

Follow-up Care

  • Continued medical supervision ensures complications from the hypoxia are minimized.
  • For children who lose oxygen to the brain for prolonged periods, dietary assistance may be required to help with feeding issues.