What is Hypoxemia?

According to abbreviationfinder, Hypoxemia is a term for low levels of oxygen in the blood. Various lung diseases can result in hypoxemia.

What is hypoxemia?

In hypoxemia, the oxygen content in the arterial blood is reduced. The term hypoxemia is often used synonymously with the term hypoxia. However, hypoxia actually refers to the lack of oxygen supply to organs and tissues. Arterial blood is normally rich in oxygen. The normal value depends on gender and age.

In women, the physiological oxygen content in the arterial blood is 18.6 percent by volume, in men it should not fall below 20.4 percent by volume. The oxygen content in the blood is calculated using various auxiliary parameters. On the one hand, the oxygen saturation of the hemoglobin in the arterial blood (SaO2) and on the other hand the hemoglobin concentration in the arterial blood is required.

The hemoglobin concentration is given in grams per deciliter. The oxygen partial pressure also plays a role in calculating the oxygen content in the arterial blood. An oxygen content below 12 percent by volume is in the critical range. The hypoxemia causes the skin to turn gray or bluish. Shortness of breath, muscle weakness and clouded consciousness are possible symptoms.


Hypoxemia can have various causes. For example, a reduced supply of oxygen in the ambient air leads to a lack of oxygen in the blood. In thin mountain air (over 3000 meters) there is significantly less oxygen. People who live consistently at this altitude have more red blood cells to make up for this lack of oxygen in the air. This is also referred to as a polyglobule.

Blood deficiency also leads to hypoxemia. Oxygen is transported using hemoglobin. If there is a lack of hemoglobin, not as much oxygen can be bound. Anemia, a condition known as anemia, can have a variety of causes. These include iron deficiency, chronic bleeding, tumor diseases or vitamin B12 deficiency.

More commonly, however, hypoxemia is caused by lung disease. Impaired gas diffusion within the lungs leads to a reduced uptake of oxygen. Gas diffusion can be disrupted, for example, by pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema is a buildup of fluid within the lungs.

The edema can be caused by cardiac insufficiency, cardiac arrhythmia, heart valve defects, medication, toxic substances and by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Another cause of hypoxemia is cancer. In particular, small cell bronchial carcinoma and bronchial carcinoma restrict the function of the lungs. Smokers are most commonly affected by these diseases.

The same applies to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pulmonary emphysema can develop from COPD. The small structures of the lungs are overinflated, so that gas exchange can no longer take place in the affected areas. The blue bloater type of pulmonary emphysema is characterized by hypoxemia.

Hypoxemia can also result from an imbalance between pulmonary blood flow and pulmonary ventilation. An example of this is pulmonary embolism. A thrombus forms in the vessels of the lungs. A cardiac shunt can also result in hypoxemia. A shunt is a connection between the normally separate portions of the systemic and pulmonary circuits. Oxygen-poor venous blood enters the arterial vessels via the shunt.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of hypoxemia are often rather uncharacteristic and appear harmless at first glance. Those affected are constantly tired and listless. They complain of exhaustion and lack of concentration. In more advanced stages, shortness of breath (dyspnea) develops on exertion. To compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood, the heart beats faster. The result is an increased heart rate and palpitations.

In rare cases, cardiac arrhythmias can also occur. In severe cases, hypoxemia affects brain function. Patients suffer from dizziness or fainting. Clouded consciousness up to coma are possible. The lack of oxygen makes itself felt in the heart by angina pectoris pain and a feeling of tightness in the heart area.

Diagnosis & course of disease

The first indications of hypoxemia are provided by the clinical picture and the anamnesis. Long-term tobacco use, coughing with or without sputum, difficulty breathing on exertion, and bluish discoloration of fingers or lips can be taken as indications of hypoxemia.

If hypoxemia is suspected, the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood are measured in a blood gas analysis. Whole arterial blood or fingerstick capillary blood is required for blood gas analysis. The evaluation is done automatically and only takes a few minutes. The blood gas analysis can therefore usually be used as an immediate diagnosis.

If the suspected diagnosis of hypoxemia is confirmed, the cause must be investigated. Further blood tests as well as examinations with imaging methods can lead to the cause. X -rays, magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are possible examination options.


Hypoxemia usually occurs when the patient suffers from problems in the lungs or airways. The low oxygen content in the blood can have a very negative effect on the patient’s health. This leads to severe fatigue and exhaustion. It is not possible to compensate for tiredness with sleep.

In diseases of the respiratory tract, severe shortness of breath also occurs, which in many cases leads to a panic attack. The person concerned can lose consciousness and possibly injure themselves in a fall. Feelings of dizziness and nausea occur, and the patient is also no longer able to concentrate. The quality of life is severely restricted and reduced by hypoxemia. Many activities from normal everyday life are also no longer possible.

Hypoxemia is always treated causally, although the course of the disease is not positive in every case. Complications can occur if it is a carcinoma or heart failure. In these cases, it is not uncommon for the patient to die.

When should you go to the doctor?

Hypoxemia usually manifests itself through rather uncharacteristic symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if symptoms such as unusually severe tiredness and lethargy are noticed, possibly combined with an increased heart rate and palpitations. If there is a suspicion of cardiac arrhythmia, it is best to consult a doctor immediately. Dizziness and a feeling of tightness in the heart area are also clear warning signs that require a doctor’s examination.

If other symptoms appear, the doctor must be consulted on the same day. People who suffer from an eating disorder or a lung disease are particularly prone to developing hypoxemia. In these cases, the symptoms mentioned should definitely be clarified. Children are best taken to the responsible pediatrician immediately. Specialists in lung diseases and nutritionists can also be consulted. In the event of a medical emergency, the emergency number should be dialled. A diagnosed hypoxemia must always be closely monitored and treated by a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

Therapy for hypoxemia depends on the cause. If the hypoxemia is based on pulmonary edema, the causative disease must also be treated here. Heart failure, for example, is treated with heart-strengthening drugs. Heart valve defects are treated surgically. If cancer is the cause of the lack of oxygen, chemotherapy is usually given.

Surgery or radiotherapy can also be used to treat bronchial carcinoma. In the case of a pulmonary embolism, a so-called lysis therapy is carried out. The aim is to dissolve the thrombus that is blocking the pulmonary vessels with medication. In severe cases, supplemental oxygen and reperfusion therapy are required. Surgical intervention may also be indicated.


Smoking is the main risk factor for lung diseases such as COPD or lung cancer. Cigarettes and other tobacco products should therefore be strictly avoided. Of course, hypoxemia can also develop in non-smokers, so that reliable prevention is not possible.


Hypoxemia can be controlled by close medical supervision following medical therapy. Depending on the cause of the disease, heart-strengthening drugs may be used. In addition to the medical support in the course of the after-treatment, the patients themselves can actively participate in their health improvement.

Avoiding nicotine has a fundamentally positive effect on development. However, non-smokers can also suffer from the disease. In the aftercare phase, it is important that the affected persons take sufficient rest breaks. With adequate sleep times at night, patients gradually begin to feel better. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet is also helpful.

In combination with light, sporting activities, the condition increases and the immune system becomes stronger. Reducing stress levels can also have a positive impact on quality of life. Through targeted breathing exercises, those affected train their muscles so that the body then absorbs more oxygen.

The effectiveness of these approaches depends on the cause of the disease and the discipline of the patient. Possibly the aftercare can be accompanied by homeopathic help. This is useful, for example, if there is pulmonary edema. For other cases, however, self-treatment is less suitable.

You can do that yourself

The recommended therapies can be accompanied by appropriate rest breaks during the day and sufficient sleep at night. A wholesome diet, a few low-impact, enduring sporting activities and a reduction in stress can improve the quality of life.

In general, the respiratory muscles can be strengthened and built up. For this purpose, gymnastic breathing exercises are recommended. Proper breathing can be learned and allows better oxygen uptake by the blood. Smoking should be reduced as much as possible, but best stopped altogether.

Relief in dealing with the disease depends on the cause. If you have pulmonary edema, you can work with a homeopath. However, self-treatment should be avoided in the case of a severe pleural effusion. If the cause is heart failure and the patient is short of breath, it may be advisable to allow enough time for each task. Rest breaks are necessary and important. If the lack of oxygen is caused by a change in the spine, chiropractic treatment can also provide relief. If there is a lack of oxygen that accompanies tinnitus, it makes sense to stimulate blood circulation. ginkgois the plant of choice. It is ideal for reducing ringing in the ears and improving the quality of life.