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Hypoxemia is the reduction in blood oxygen levels as compared to normal. If the blood oxygen levels are too low, the body may be unable to operate properly. It is a symptom of a respiratory or circulatory problem, and it may manifest itself in a variety of ways, including shortness of breath and fatigue.

The blood transports oxygen to all of the body’s cells, ensuring their health. Hypoxemia cause may have mild symptoms like shortness of breath and headache, but it can also be deadly. It has the potential to damage heart and brain function in severe cases. Some other symptoms of hypoxemia include coughing, confusion, wheezing and discoloration of skin. If your blood is depleted of oxygen, it will be unable to provide adequate oxygen to the organs and tissues that need it to operate correctly. If the disease is severe, it may be fatal, and if it lasts for a long period of time, it can cause significant heart and brain damage.

Hypoxemia may be triggered by a number of different diseases, including pneumonia, asthma, and COPD. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical care.

Hypoxemia is detected by measuring the oxygen saturation of blood obtained from an artery. Another approach is to monitor the blood oxygen saturation using a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter is a little gadget that attaches to the finger and measures the blood’s oxygen saturation.

A pulse oximeter typically measures normal oxygen saturation levels between 95 and 100%. As per the oxygen level chart, low blood oxygen levels refer to blood oxygen levels that are less than 90%.

If the oxygen needs continue to rise while the oxygen saturation levels remain low then this condition is referred to as refractory hypoxemia.


The variables that cause tissue hypoxia frequently cause the intermediate condition of hypoxemia; therefore, the factors that cause any kind of hypoxia may also cause hypoxemia.

Hypoxemia may be triggered by a number of different causes, including the following:

COPD: It is characterized by lung blockage in which air cannot enter the lungs. COPD is characterized by the deterioration of the alveolar walls and surrounding capillaries, which results in decreased oxygen exchange and hypoxemia.Anemia: It occurs if the body cannot generate enough RBCs to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body. As a consequence, anemia patients may have low levels of oxygen in their blood.

Lung failure: As a warning indicator, hypoxemia may sometimes indicate the presence of an underlying disease like a respiratory failure. Lung failure happens when the lungs are unable to deliver enough oxygen into the bloodstream to keep the person alive. A low blood oxygen level may be a symptom of respiratory failure in certain individuals.

The other conditions that hypoxemia causes are listed below:

  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary embolism i.e. blood clot in lungs
  • Heart defects or diseases
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary fibrosis i.e. lung scarring
  • High altitudes
  • Lung disease
  • Pulmonary edema i.e. fluid retention in lungs

Some medications also have the potential of lowering the oxygen levels in the blood. Medicines that lower the breathing rate like anesthetics and narcotics also result in hypoxemia.

Acute hypoxemia may occur in infants with heart abnormalities or other illnesses. In infants born, the oxygen saturation level in the blood is tested to rule out congenital cardiac problems.

Preterm infants, particularly those on mechanical breathing, are susceptible to hypoxemia.

When to see a doctor


If you notice any of the symptoms and signs of hypoxemia, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you get early diagnosis and treatment, you may be able to avoid the disease from deteriorating and perhaps killing you. Consult your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fluid retention
  • Breathlessness that intensifies with exercise or other physically demanding tasks
  • Sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that disrupts the sleep cycle, is characterized by difficulty breathing or a suffocating feeling
  • Feeling disoriented 


Your healthcare professional will perform a physical examination to listen to your heart and lungs to identify hypoxemia. Abnormalities in these organs may indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood. Your doctor may also examine your skin, lips, and fingernails to see if they are bluish.

Your physician will assess your oxygen levels using tests for hypoxemia diagnosis such as:

  • Pulse oximetry detects the quantity of oxygen in your blood using a sensor that fits over your finger. Pulse oximetry is non-invasive and painless. Many doctors use it regularly every time you visit them.
  • A needle is used to obtain a blood sample from your wrist, arm, or groin to measure the oxygen levels in your blood.
  • 6MWT (six-minute walk test): You can observe your oxygen levels as you push yourself and how far you can walk on a flat surface in six minutes. This test assesses lung and heart function.


The hypoxemia treatments that target the underlying cause may include:

  • Inhalers containing bronchodilators or steroids to aid persons suffering from lung illness such as COPD.
  • Diuretics are medications that aid in the removal of excess fluid from the lungs.
  • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask is used to treat sleep apnea.
  • Supplemental oxygen may be used to treat hypoxemia that is persistent. Oxygen devices differ, but you should expect a machine to give extra oxygen via a breathing mask or a short tube (cannula).

When To See A Doctor

If you have abrupt shortness of breath that makes it difficult to breathe, you should always seek emergency medical treatment.

Consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following hypoxemia symptoms:


This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have concerns about Hypoxemia or any other medical condition, please see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment suggestions.