Hypoxia

When the cells in our body lack oxygen.

The importance of oxygen for the human body

Oxygen is an essential requirement for cell functions that allows the production of energy by cells in different organs and tissues. Respiration defines the different steps that lead to the supply of oxygen from the blood in the human body and the removal of carbon dioxide from the blood into the air.

Providing oxygen to the body

It all begins with breathing well.

Inhaled air passes through the lungs, where oxygen enters into the blood flow. Carried by the bloodstream, oxygen is sent to its target destination. Ultimately, oxygen is released through the capillary membrane into the cell where it is used to produce energy.

Overall, oxygen delivery depends on the sufficient functioning of three systems:

  • Respiratory: delivering oxygen to the bloodstream
  • Hematological: carrying oxygen to the cells
  • Cardiovascular: output and flow to deliver oxygen to the tissues

The key phases of respiration

Hypoxia: when cells can’t breathe

The role of oxygen is to accept electrons, which allows the process of energy production to be completed in the cell.

This reaction uses glucose and produces water and carbon dioxide. It occurs within an organelle named the mitochondrion.The process is referred to as mitochondrial respiration, the breathing of a cell.

If no oxygen is present in the cell to accept electrons, you are deprived of oxygen. This is fatal for the cell and the whole organism. This is what we call Hypoxia.

Different causes and origins of hypoxia

There are 3 kinds of conditions that can lead to hypoxia and/or hypoxemia: a reduction of oxygen (O2) source (reduced concentration in inhaled air), a reduction of O2 supply to tissues, and an increase in O2 demand at the tissue level.

  1. Hypoxemia: Hypoxemia is the decrease of oxygen carried into the blood. It affects oxygen delivery to tissues, but also how well it is able to move from the airspace of the lungs into the blood.
  2. Hypoxia in hypoxaemic conditions: Hypoxia in hypoxaemic conditions occurs whenever the oxygen carried into the blood decreases below normal levels.
  3. Hypoxia in normoxaemic conditions: Hypoxia in normoxaemic conditions occurs whenever oxygen is not sufficiently supplied by the available oxygen stores to meet the tissue demand.

What are the solutions to hypoxia?

Any disorder causing hypoxia could be managed with oxygen administration, to reduce the effects of hypoxia.

The goal is to restore sufficient oxygen delivery to the tissues. However, to be efficient, oxygen therapy requires the respiratory, hematological, and cardiovascular systems to be at least partially functioning, as the origins of hypoxia may be respiratory or non-respiratory.

Q&A

Can poisoning by toxic agents cause hypoxia?

Yes, as it can inhibit the cells to metabolize the oxygen delivered.

How much oxygen is there normally in the air?

Depending on the altitude, we usually have about 20% of oxygen in the air that we breathe around us.

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