Chronic hypoxia is a condition in which tissues in the body are continuously deprived of much-needed oxygen over the course of months or years. It is typically characterized by the slow or gradual reduction in the oxygen supply of cells, tissues, and organ systems, often brought about by problems in the heart and lungs. Oxygen is very important for the proper functioning of cells. The decrease or absence of oxygen supply to the cells, usually result in the decline of cell functions, and in the overall decline in health.
There are several medical conditions leading to the development of chronic hypoxia. These include respiratory disorders, congestive heart failure (CHF), pulmonary edema, and chronic blood loss. CHF is a condition where the heart becomes weak and is unable to pump blood throughout the body. Pulmonary edema is a condition where fluids accumulate in the air sacs of the lungs, making breathing difficult. Chronic blood loss is often due to undiagnosed bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract.
People who are chronic smokers are highly at risk for developing this condition. Heavy smoking often leads to the development of a respiratory disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In COPD, the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs, are gradually destroyed. Inflammatory changes in the lung tissues brought about by COPD usually happen gradually, making it harder and harder for patients to breath as time goes by.
Chronic hypoxia symptoms often include body weakness, the slowing of mental processes, and poor reflexes. Affected patients usually cannot complete many tasks that involve physical exertion as they become easily fatigued. They may also experience recurrent muscle cramps, cyanosis, or the bluish discoloration of the skin, difficulty breathing and nose flaring. Chronic hypoxia generally interferes with the normal lifestyle of many patients.
Pulmonologists are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, management and treatment of patients with lung problems. They often diagnose patients based on the detailed medical history, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests performed on these patients. Diagnostic tests often done on patients with chronic hypoxia include chest x-rays to assess the appearance of the lungs, spiral incentive spirometry to assess for respiratory function, and arterial blood gas tests to detect abnormalities in the level of oxygen in the blood. Patients with chronic hypoxia are often given supplemental oxygen. Failure to treat these patients usually results in complications that may further worsen their conditions.