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
- Strained or pulled abdominal muscle
- Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
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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- Living with COPD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/livingwith. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.