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Definition

Hypoxemia is a low level of oxygen in the blood. It decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches organs like the heart, kidney, and brain.

Causes

Hypoxemia may be caused by:

  • Problems getting oxygen into the lungs such asthma
  • Trouble moving oxygen from the lungs to the blood – can happen with lung damage or disease
  • Certain medicines

Risk Factors

Things that may raise your risk of hypoxemia include:

  • Health problems with your heart or lungs
  • Sleep apnea
  • Travel to places of high altitude
  • Taking certain medicines

Symptoms

You may have:

  • Fast breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Some signs like blue-ish nails or skin suggest low oxygen levels.

Your oxygen levels can be tested with:

  • Pulse oximetry
  • Blood tests

Breathing tests may also be done to see how well your lungs are working.

Treatment

Some may need emergency care right away. Other may need a change in their care plan.

The main treatment will be oxygen therapy. Oxygen may be delivered through a mask or a tube just under the nose. It will increase the amount of oxygen that passes into your lungs. It will then improve the amount of oxygen in your blood. Oxygen may be needed:

  • Short term until problems have passed
  • Long term and daily for conditions like COPD

Prevention

Not all hypoxemia can be prevented. If you have a condition that can lead to hypoxemia, follow your care plan. Let your care team know if you are having trouble with treatment.

RESOURCES

American Lung Association  http://www.lung.org  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  http://www.cdc.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

College of Family Physicians of Canada  https://www.cfpc.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Hypoxemia. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17727-hypoxemia. Updated May 7, 2018. Accessed May 1, 2019.

Hypoxemia—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T920488/Hypoxemia-approach-to-the-patient. Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed May 1, 2019.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 05/2019
  • Update Date: 05/21/2019