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What is anoxia?
Anoxia is when your body or brain loses its oxygen supply. Hypoxia is when a body part (which could include the brain) doesn’t have enough oxygen, and it can sometimes lead to anoxia, which is a full loss. Injury resulting from a lack of oxygen is called an hypoxic-anoxic injury.
Anoxia doesn’t just happen—you can’t catch it like the flu, and it’s not going to happen absent some other serious injury or illness. But because of the nature of what it is and what it does, there have been numerous personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits related to the condition.
If you’ve lost a loved one because of anoxia, or if you’re recovering from an anoxic brain injury, you might be interested in determining what your legal options are if it was the result of someone’s negligence.
What causes anoxia?
First, you’ll need to consider how the condition happened. It can result from several issues, the underlying one of which is usually hypoxia.
Hypoxia could be caused by:
- High altitude (low oxygen)
- Near-drowning, choking, or some other injury that affects breathing
- Significant blood loss
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Low blood flow to organs caused by a stroke or heart problem
- Asthma, pneumonia or other breathing problem that reduces oxygen supply
It can affect your brain, heart, kidneys or tissues—each of which is essential for proper body functioning. Your brain, in particular, can suffer permanent damage after about four or five minutes without oxygen. This causes brain cells to die, which affects the functions controlled by the brain.
Symptoms of an anoxic brain injury
Again, anoxia is unlikely to happen without a specific cause. But if you’ve been injured or are experiencing a medical event, you might not realize that you’re becoming anoxic.
Here are some signs to look for:
- Weakness, dizziness or disorientation
- Memory loss
- Headaches (that are out of the ordinary)
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble walking or moving your limbs properly
- Slurred speech, forgetting words
- Altered judgment
If your brain is without oxygen for more than four or five minutes, you might experience seizures, hallucinations, or a loss of consciousness.
Types of anoxia
|Anemic anoxia||The blood does not have enough hemoglobin, which is a protein that contains iron and delivers oxygen to the organs and tissues. This would decrease your total oxygen supply and could happen because of a deficiency like anemia (low iron) or congenital conditions (a condition you’re born with) like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia.|
|The blood doesn’t reach the brain or other organs that require blood flow, even if you have plenty of oxygen and hemoglobin. The most common cause of this is a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiac condition.|
|Toxic anoxia||Exposure to carbon monoxide or other toxins can prevent the blood from carrying oxygen through the body.|
|Anoxic anoxia||This typically happens at high altitude, particularly if you’re participating in a high-energy activity like hiking, skiing, or climbing. Your body doesn’t get enough oxygen from the air and the exertion causes you to require more than you can take in.
This is also the type of anoxia suffered by a person who is choking, near drowning, suffocating, or has a breathing problem like asthma.
If you’ve suffered an anoxia-related injury, the likelihood is that some other injury caused it—a car accident, medical malpractice, swimming pool accident, toxic exposure, or something else.
So, for example, say you were in a car accident where you suffered a serious injury that caused a large amount of blood loss. The loss of blood then led to anoxia, which caused brain damage. You could potentially file a lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident because of their negligent driving.
As another example, three Americans died on vacation in the Bahamas. Their deaths were determined to result from carbon monoxide poisoning in their villa at the resort where they were staying.
In another tragic example, sometimes an anoxic brain injury happens to babies during delivery. There are a variety of ways this could happen, including the umbilical cord being wrapped around the baby’s neck. It could also occur if mucous enters the baby’s lungs and restricts their airways. This can put a baby at risk for cerebral palsy or other neurological impairments with cognitive or neurodevelopmental delays.
You might have a cause of action for a personal injury lawsuit if the underlying injury (the cause of the anoxia) was because someone was negligent.
Negligence is when a person who has a duty of care to another person breaches that duty and causes injury. Everyone has a duty to someone at some time, and you can have a duty to someone you don’t even know. For instance, each driver has a duty to every other road user.
The duty is to share the road in a way that takes reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm or injury to anyone else. Yes, accidents can be caused by careful drivers. But a driver breaches their duty of care if they are speeding, failing to stop at signals or signs, making unsafe lane changes, texting or talking on the phone while driving, driving drunk, etc.
If that breach of the duty of care causes an accident that results in injury to another person, that victim might have a claim against the driver for their costs related to the injury.
Medical malpractice and anoxia
Medical malpractice is when a medical professional (doctor, nurse, licensed hospital personnel, or another provider) negligently fails to follow the appropriate and accepted standard of care for a patient’s treatment, and that failure causes injury or illness.
Although a doctor would not have caused most of the medical conditions that lead to anoxia, a doctor can be liable for failing to diagnose a condition that could result in anoxia, not prescribing the correct treatment, or failing to anticipate or test for risk factors that could lead to anoxia.
Anoxia and wrongful death lawsuits
Anoxia can be very serious and leads to death in some cases. If you’re the survivor of someone who died from an anoxia-related complication, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
There are two types of wrongful death lawsuits. You can file a survival action, which is a lawsuit on behalf of the person who died. This would claim damages for their pain and suffering, medical bills, and other costs between the time of the defendant’s negligence and the time of the victim’s death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is on behalf of the surviving family members for their costs related to the loss of their loved one (loss of income, loss of consortium, mental anguish, etc.).
When to contact a personal injury lawyer
If the accident, injury, or illness caused you a serious anoxia-related condition or anoxic brain injury, or if you lost a loved one, you can contact a personal injury lawyer for guidance on your legal options for financial recovery.
Your lawyer will review the evidence surrounding the accident or incident that caused the condition, evaluate liability of all parties involved, and work with financial and medical experts to determine exactly what your long-term costs will be.
Together with your lawyer, you can determine the best course of action for financial compensation for your anoxia injury.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.
- Guide to traumatic brain injuries
- Resources to help after a brain injury
- How to recognize a brain injury and what you should do about it
- Concussions and auto accidents
- Rehabilitation and therapy after a brain injury
- Second impact syndrome and sports injury lawsuits
- Legal guide to brain death
- What is CTE?
- A loss of oxygen can lead to an anoxic brain injury
- Can you recover costs for the accident that caused a brain bleed?