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What Are the Potential Complications of Chronic Hypoxemia?

Chronic hypoxemia, a persistent deficiency in blood oxygen, can have serious health repercussions, including heart strain, cognitive decline, and organ damage. It can stealthily compromise your well-being, often escalating without noticeable symptoms. Understanding these risks is crucial for proactive health management. How might this silent threat be impacting you, and what steps can you take to mitigate its effects? Continue reading to uncover more.
Alexis Rohlin
Alexis Rohlin

Hypoxemia is a medical condition that occurs when the body cannot get enough oxygen. Chronic hypoxemia is when the body has long periods of low blood oxygen levels in the arterial blood. The condition generally occurs when a person has anemia, a primary hemoglobin deficiency or a lung disease. Potential complications of chronic hypoxemia include pulmonary hypertension — increased blood pressure in the lungs — impaired brain function, heart attack, hypoxia and secondary polycythemia.

High blood pressure in the lungs resulting from chronic hypoxemia is caused by low oxygen levels in arterial blood, which may be caused by the smaller blood vessels narrowing and preventing the normal volume of blood from flowing through them. When blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs — the pulmonary arteries — is higher than normal, it raises the blood pressure in the heart's right ventricle. This forces the heart to work harder to pump the blood, which can lead to heart tissue damage. Over time, chronic hypoxemia can continue to damage heart tissue until the damage becomes so great that it causes the right side of the heart to fail, which causes a heart attack.

Shortness of breath and fatigue are two possible symptoms of chronic hypoxemia.
Shortness of breath and fatigue are two possible symptoms of chronic hypoxemia.

Just like other organs in the body, the brain requires a steady supply of oxygen to work properly. When the brain is starved of oxygen during chronic hypoxia, it may cause a person to have poor judgment and a loss of coordination. Loss of oxygen to the brain also may cause euphoria, or an intense feeling of happiness, elation, excitement and well-being.

Chronic hypoxemia may lead to hypertension or other complications.
Chronic hypoxemia may lead to hypertension or other complications.

When the cells of the body are starved of oxygen because of chronic hypoxemia, it may cause hypoxia. Hypoxia is an overall low blood oxygen level that can affect the entire body — at which point it is called generalized hypoxia — or a region of the body — known as tissue hypoxia. It can cause headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness, coma, seizures, priapism, cyanosis and death.

Chronic hypoxemia can lead to heart attacks.
Chronic hypoxemia can lead to heart attacks.

Secondary polycythemia is the name given when the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells in response to low levels of oxygen in the blood. Low oxygen levels cause a high production of erythropoietin (Epo), a type of enzyme made by the kidneys and liver. The enzyme enters red bone marrow and causes it to start making red blood cells in a process called erythropoiesis. Red blood cells carry oxygen in the blood, so more red blood cells are made in the body's attempt to raise blood oxygen levels. Common symptoms of secondary polycythemia are dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue or physical weakness, chronic cough and sleep apnea.

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    • Shortness of breath and fatigue are two possible symptoms of chronic hypoxemia.
      By: unitypix
      Shortness of breath and fatigue are two possible symptoms of chronic hypoxemia.
    • Chronic hypoxemia may lead to hypertension or other complications.
      By: Monkey Business
      Chronic hypoxemia may lead to hypertension or other complications.
    • Chronic hypoxemia can lead to heart attacks.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Chronic hypoxemia can lead to heart attacks.
    • A person suffering from chronic hypoxemia may wear a nasal cannula to obtain supplemental oxygen.
      By: sudok1
      A person suffering from chronic hypoxemia may wear a nasal cannula to obtain supplemental oxygen.
    • Symptoms of secondary polycythemia may include chronic cough.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Symptoms of secondary polycythemia may include chronic cough.
    • Chronic hypoxia may make it difficult to complete everyday activities.
      By: Halfpoint
      Chronic hypoxia may make it difficult to complete everyday activities.