Birth Trauma: Anoxia and Hypoxia

Birth Trauma: Anoxia and Hypoxia

Birth injuries are often produced by depriving the infant of blood flow or oxygen, or both, during final stages of labor. The results can be cerebral palsy, developmental impairment, or even death.

What is Anoxia? What is Hypoxia?

Anoxia means a lack of oxygen. Medically, anoxia is the deficiency of oxygen particularly in organs or muscle groups. It occurs because of reduced blood flow, or insufficient infusion of oxygen into the blood. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, the resulting condition is Cerebral Anoxia. Cerebral anoxia leads rapidly to permanent brain damage.

Hypoxia occurs when low oxygen levels. Hypoxia also characterizes environmental areas. Hypoxia usually only effects individual body parts, such as arms that have low oxygen levels. Newborns can suffer hypoxia if born prematurely and with lungs that are not fully developed.

How Do Anoxia or Hypoxia Occur?

Anoxia and hypoxia are well known hazards that can happen during labor and childbirth. Umbilical cord complications, such as the cord being pinched or tangled, can reduce or prevent blood and oxygen flow to the baby. Oxygen deprivation quickly damages the body and vital organs and is life threatening. A minute without oxygen can lead to hypoxia, while five minutes produces anoxia. Careful monitoring, delivery assistance, and C-Section surgical delivery must all be immediately available to protect mother and fetus from anoxia and hypoxia.

Can Medical Care Help if the Baby is Anoxic or Hypoxic?

Until recently, medical options to try to help a baby born anoxic or hypoxic have been limited. Even now, an experimental chamber with 100% oxygen, called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, is no guarantee of a reversal of damage due to oxygen deprivation. However, in some cases, it can help and it should be considered immediately when infant anoxia or hypoxia are present.

What are Dangers of Anoxia and Hypoxia?

Anoxia and hypoxia can cause brain damage and other developmental problems. Oxygen deprivation gives rise to cerebral palsy, retardation, and other life altering complications. Brain death, and physical complete death are also risks.

Can Medical Tests Confirm or Rule Out Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injury?

Yes, eventually, tests can confirm or rule out brain injuries in babies. Sometimes, though, tests are not definitive for several months. Immediate tests include CT scan of the head, MRI of the brain, and Electroencephalography (EEG). Specialized CTs, called SPECT tests, can examine s areas of the brain for blood flow and brain activity.

What are the Symptoms of an Anoxic/Hypoxic Brain Injury?

There are known symptoms that parents and care providers can look out for when looking for anoxia and hypoxia. These symptoms include: lethargy, weakened limbs, spastic or jerky motions, inability to track with the eyes, delayed response to stimuli, lack of control of head motions, delayed learning, and, for some babies, unconsciousness and seizures.


  1. Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
  2. Anoxic Brain Damage