How long can your Brain go Without Oxygen?

By Matt Lalande in Personal Injury on July 15, 2020

How long can your Brain go Without Oxygen?

How long can your Brain go Without Oxygen?

Your brain needs a constant supply of oxygen to function properly, otherwise the result is usually brain damage or death. The lack of oxygen to the brain can happen when someone is drowning, choking, suffocating or in cardiac arrest. In our practice we have often seen the concept of brain hypoxia happen when a victim dives into shallow water and renders themselves unconscious or in drowning cases, particularly involving children, even in very shallow water.  Drownings can happen in many places including hotel pools, cottage lakes, public pools or water-parks and water drainage ditches. Pool drains are one of the most common causes of drowning accidents. Most drowning victims who experience oxygen deprivation unfortunately sustain permanent neurological and psychological damage.

The brain consumes a significant amount of energy compared to its weight and size. Although the brain contains only 2% of body mass, it requires 20% of oxygen.  In the event of oxygen deprivation, it slowly starts losing its power to function and the cells of the brain start dying. This situation damages the brain and causes brain injuries.

Brain Injuries related to Lack of Oxygen

There are two major types of such injuries – Anoxic and hypoxic brain injury.  Anoxic is most often the result of cardiac arrest, near drowning, strangulation, carbon monoxide, smoke inhalation, opiate drug overdose or head trauma. Cardiac arrest is the most common cause of anoxic brain injury.  If the oxygen supply is interrupted, consciousness will be lost within 15 seconds while brain cells will slowly start to die after 4 to 5 minutes of oxygen deprivation.

Hypoxic Brain Injuries  – hypoxic brain injury is a form of hypoxia or oxygen deficiency that affects the brain. It happens when the brain does not receive enough oxygen even though blood is still flowing. Conversly, when oxygen supply is totally cut off, it is called brain anoxia.  Brain hypoxia is an absolute medical emergency. Your brain requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly; and

Anoxic Brain Injuries  – anoxic brain injuries are caused by a complete lack of oxygen to the brain, which results in the death of brain cells after approximately four to five minutes after oxygen supply disappears.

Causes of Brain Oxygen Deprivation

There are certain health conditions and incidents that disturb the supply of oxygen to the brain. These situations could take place at your work due to toxic work environment.  It could also occur because of someone’s irresponsible behaviour on the road or at public place.  Some of them are cardiac attack, heart stroke and unusual heartbeat which could impede the path of oxygen from heart to brain. There are many other causes listed below that could lead the situation of oxygen deprivation:

– Chocking – breathing in fumes or munching or drinking too quickly;
– Hypotension – when you have way too low blood pressure;
– Anesthesia related problems during surgical treatment
– Drowning – you are way too long under the water and loose the track of breathing;
– Carbon monoxide poisoning – blocks the bloodstream;
– Fire in the building – tons of smoke makes it difficult to breathe;
– Strangulation – the neck is compressed and does not allow the oxygen flow;
– Complications from anesthesia;
– trauma that causes blood loss;
– Asthma attack – medical condition makes it hard to breathe; or
– Tracking or travelling – height above the sea level typically more than 8000 ft.

Brain Oxygen Deprivation: How Long is Too Long

As noted above – hypoxic refers to the partial lack of oxygen to the brain, while anoxic means a total lack of oxygen to the brain.  When there is lack of oxygen to the brain, there is not one place that lacks oxygen, but everywhere that blood normally flows.  One thing is for sure – if the brain is lacking oxygen, every second counts.

– Lack of consciousness happens during 30 seconds to 3 minutes;
– After about 1 minute survival is possible but damage is possible;
– After 3 minutes, the neurons start suffering and serious brain damage can occur;
– Mark of 5 minutes is the highest time for the brain to hold off;
– After about 5 to 10 minutes of lack of oxygen, you are likely to develop quite serious and possibly irreversible brain damage;
– Even if the brain is alive at the mark of 10 minutes, it slips into Coma and damage could not be recovered; and
– At the mark of 15 minutes, recovery is virtually impossible.

These statistics might not be the same for everyone. Nevertheless, it is imperative to find out whether your brain is affected.

Symptoms of Brain Oxygen Deprivation

Mild symptoms of oxygen deprivation to the brain can include memory loss and problems with motor function, such as movement. Severe cases of oxygen deprivation can result in seizures and brain death. Other symptoms of brain hypoxia or low oxygen levels in the brain can include:

– Seizures – a sudden and hysterical electrical disruption in the brain;
– Fluctuations in heart rate;
– Delusion or lack of ability to make judgement or awareness of the surrounding;
– Body parts are becoming blue due to lack of blood circulation;
– Not able to follow direction or perform a complex task:
– Hands or feet are going sturdy and not able to move as lack of oxygen circulation;
– Decreased blood circulation in the hands or feet;
– Not able to think clearly, seeing multiple things and spots; or
– Fainting and blackout;
– Unable to speak clearly;
– Personality change and the mood swings are frequent;
– Difficulty in learning new information, remembering and recalling names and figures;
– Not able to coordinate motor skills like writing and walking;
– Unable to acknowledge where exactly they have pain in the body;
– Impulsive behaviour comes out as aggression and inappropriate sexual behaviour and
– Rapid aging of brain, depression, or anxiety.

Hypoxia Treatment

The lack of oxygen to the brain is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical intervention and treatment, however projecting the recovery and care for anoxic or hypoxic brain injuries is difficult because each case is unique.  It is imperative that oxygen supply to the brain resumes withotu delay in order to prevent serious complications or brain death. The most important thing without a doubt is to get more oxygen into your body. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the hypoxia – however basic life support is often necessary to reduce damage to the brain.  Establishing an adequate airway as soon as possible  in order to saturate the blood with oxygen is vital for the cardiovascular system.  The respiratory and cardiovascular systems must be supported properly.

Has your loved one suffered an brain injury due to oxygen deprivation?

Brain damage due to lack of oxygen can be debilitating and frightening for you and your family. If you or your loved one has suffered from oxygen deprivation because of someone else’s negligence, call our Hamilton brain injury lawyers today at 905-333-8888.  We have represented brain injury victims, families of drowning accident victims and spinal cord injury victim since 2003. We represent seriously injured victims and their families, and families who have lost loved ones all across Ontario and we would be happy to speak to you about our legal rights.




or fill out the form below

    • img
    • img
    • img
    • img

    Clients Testimonials

    more testimonials

    Experience Matters


    Pedestrian Accident

    view all case results