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The Difference Between Anoxia and Hypoxia in Child Brain Injuries

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2016 | Personal Injury

By Pendergast Law on September 13, 2016

There are a wide variety of injuries that can occur at birth, including brain damage. While some children suffer brain damage in utero, which can be detected by an OBGYN in advance of birth, many instances of brain damage occur due to an issue that arises during the delivery process. Brain damage has the ability to cause immediate death, shorten the lifespan of the child, or disable the child. You may have heard the medical terms “anoxia” and “hypoxia.” What do these words mean, what symptoms are associated with them, and how are they different?


Anoxia occurs when no oxygen flow is going to the body, such as the organs or blood. Cerebral anoxia is the technical term for oxygen deprivation to the brain. Prolonged deprivation can and will result in severe, long-lasting brain damage and, sadly, often times death. Oxygen deprivation is usually classified as anoxia after an infant has not taken a breath for five minutes.


Hypoxia is similar to anoxia in that it results in brain damage due to oxygen level issues. However, hypoxia is the step before anoxia in which oxygen levels are low but not entirely depleted. One common example of this occurs with hikers at high altitudes such as Everest. Because oxygen levels are lower the higher up you go, your body needs an oxygen tank to sustain adequate oxygen levels. Without an oxygen tank, you will enter into hypoxia, making you weak and drowsy.

Causes of Anoxia and Hypoxia

So how do anoxia and hypoxia occur? On occasion, they occur because the child is not breathing after being delivered. The lungs may be underdeveloped, bringing insufficient amounts of oxygen to the brain and resulting in hypoxia, or the lungs may not be working (temporarily or permanently) at all, bringing no oxygen to the brain and causing anoxia.

If the child is still in the uterus, anoxia and hypoxia may occur due to a defect in the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord provides oxygen to the child during pregnancy. If the umbilical cord is somehow severed or pinched, the oxygen supply may be cut off to the baby.

During delivery, the umbilical cord may become wrapped around the child’s throat, restricting airflow. In addition, if the umbilical cord exits the mother’s body before the baby, it may become kinked, cutting off the supply of oxygen.