Several factors are needed to continuously supply the cells and tissues in your body with oxygen:
- There must be enough oxygen in the air you are breathing
- Your lungs must be able to inhale the oxygen-containing air — and exhale carbon dioxide
- Your bloodstream must be able to circulate blood to your lungs, take up the oxygen and carry it throughout your body
A problem with any of these factors — for example, high altitude, asthma or heart disease — might result in hypoxemia, particularly under more extreme conditions, such as exercise or illness. When your blood oxygen falls below a certain level, you might experience shortness of breath, headache, and confusion or restlessness.
Common causes of hypoxemia include:
- ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome)
- Congenital heart defects in children
- Congenital heart disease in adults
- COPD Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases
- Interstitial lung disease
- Medications, such as certain narcotics and anesthetics, that depress breathing
- Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Pulmonary edema
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
Dec. 25, 2015
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
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- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 28, 2015.
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- Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Acute hypoxemic respiratory failure and ARDS. In: Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- Vincent JL, et al., eds. Arterial hypoxemia. In: Textbook of Critical Care. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
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- Wilkins MR, et al. Pathophysiology and treatment of high-altitude pulmonary vascular disease. Circulation. 2015;131:582.
- Living with COPD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/livingwith. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.