A Grim Reminder of the Link Between Heart, Lungs and Brain

Cerebral hypoxia is the medical term for an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain. Brain cells can begin to die within 5 minutes of a cut-off or severe reduction of oxygen supply.

It’s a surprisingly common problem. That’s in part because of the variety of conditions that can cause oxygen deprivation. While oxygen deprivation (vascular dementia) is a more common cause of dementia among seniors than is Alzheimer’s, the condition isn’t limited to old age.

The BBC reports today that a 20-year old soccer player collapsed from brain damage after developing a heart arrhythmia during a friendly match played in Austria.(1) The brain damage appears to be severe and permanent.

Other causes for cerebral hypoxia include:

  • COPD or severe asthma
  • Drowning
  • Strangling/choking/suffocation
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Head trauma
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Complications of general anesthesia
  • Hyperventilation
  • Consistent work in a nitrogen rich environment

Very low blood pressure can be a factor as well. That can result from medication, certain foods, frequent coughing (from congestion or allergies) and alcohol, and especially a combination of these factors.

Symptoms of hypoxia include

  • Difficulty with complex tasks
  • Poor short-term memory capacity
  • Decreased motor control
  • Cyanosis (bluish tone) of the skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fainting

The impact of cerebral hypoxia depends largely on whether the victim loses consciousness and for how long that occurs.  According to NIH,

During recovery, psychological and neurological abnormalities such as amnesia, personality regression, hallucinations, memory loss, and muscle spasms and twitches may appear, persist, and then resolve.(2)

However, it may take days or weeks before the full extent of damage from carbon monoxide poisoning becomes evident. Since carbon monoxide is odorless, that’s why monitors are so essential in the home. A simple act such as stacking boxes too close to a furnace can fill a home with this deadly gas.



  1. BBC News, “Abdelhak Nouri: Ajax player suffers brain damage after collapse”
  2. NIH, “Cerebral Hypoxia Information Page.” https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Cerebral-Hypoxia-Information-Page
  3. Dementia.org, “Oxygen Deprivation Associated With Onset Of Dementia.” https://www.dementia.org/oxygen-deprivation-dementia

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