What Is Hypoxia? - Definition, Types, Symptoms & Causes

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  • 0:02 Hypoxia
  • 1:00 Causes
  • 2:14 Symptoms
  • 2:31 Treatment
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jenna Liphart

Jenna teaches undergraduate nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

Understanding basic medical terminology is important for both patients and students. In this lesson, you'll learn about hypoxia, a common term used throughout the medical field in relation to a variety of diagnoses.


Have you ever been at a medical check-up and the doctor used medical terms that you didn't really understand? One of these may have been hypoxia, a term used to describe a decrease of oxygen in bodily tissues. This condition may also be referred to as hypoxemia.

Hypoxia can occur in any part of the human body; however, the brain, heart, liver, and lungs are the most sensitive to a decrease in oxygen. These organs will experience the most damage in the shortest amount of time without adequate oxygen.

Hypoxia can happen because of a variety of reasons, and it's present in a lot of different medical conditions. It can be caused by decreased breathable oxygen in the air (like when you're climbing a tall mountain), decreased ability for the blood to carry oxygen to the organ tissues, and decreased ability of tissues to absorb oxygen. Well discuss the specifics of these last two later on.


As we just said, hypoxia (or hypoxemia) can be caused by any condition that lowers the amount of oxygen in your blood or tissues. Environmental causes include high altitudes (like mountains), carbon monoxide poisoning (which can occur in a running car), or cyanide poisoning (if you're a spy looking for an easy way out).

Hypoxia can also be caused by medical problems that reduce your ability to actually breathe in oxygen. These diagnoses can include asthma, lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pneumonia, emphysema, and bronchitis. Some narcotic pain medications can also decrease your ability to breathe, which is why they're considered dangerous.

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