What Happens When Blood-Oxygen Levels Are Too Low?

By Jennifer Lanier

The cells of the body need a constant supply of oxygen. When oxygen supply is reduced or interrupted, a person may develop hypoxemia, a low level of oxygen in the blood.

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The cells of the body need a constant supply of oxygen. When oxygen supply is reduced or interrupted, a person may develop hypoxemia, a low level of oxygen in the blood.

Hypoxemia

Doctor examining hospital patient

Hypoxemia can disrupt body function and damage vital tissues. In extreme cases, hypoxemia can be life-threatening.

Symptoms

Feeling fatigued

The first and most common symptom of hypoxemia is shortness of breath. In some cases, symptoms of weakness, fatigue and confusion are also present.

Effects

Human organs

Low blood-oxygen levels eventually affect every system of the body as organ function deteriorates.

Causes

heart disease is one possible cause of Hypoxemia

Common causes of low blood oxygen levels are heart or lung disease, anemia, strenuous exercise, carbon monoxide poisoning, emphysema, pneumonia, shock, shallow breathing, stress and sleep apnea.

Measuring Blood Oxygen

Personal mobile oximeter, displayed at CES 2013 in Las Vegas

Blood oxygen can be measured by an arterial blood test or by an oximeter, a device that clips onto the finger. At sea level, normal blood oxygen readings are between 95 and 100 percent. Readings under 90 are considered low. At levels below 80 percent, the condition is considered severe.

Treatment

Wearing an oxygen mask

Medical treatment for hypoxemia involves administering oxygen by face mask or mechanical ventilation. Doctors may also recommend regular exercise to strengthen the respiratory muscles and avoiding cigarette smoke.

References

About the Author

Jennifer Lanier has been a professional health researcher and writer on the web since 2002. She has published work on several health sites and written e-books on alternative cancer cures and natural hormone balance.

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