Cerebral hypoxia classification

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Cerebral hypoxia is typically grouped into four categories depending on the severity and location of the brain’s oxygen deprivation:[1]

  • Diffuse cerebral hypoxia: A mild to moderate impairment of brain function due to low oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Focal cerebral ischemia: A small localized reduction in the flow of oxygen from the blood to the brain. Damage to neurons is usually irreversible. Mild strokes.
  • Cerebral infarction: A complete stoppage of the flow of oxygen from the blood to a region of the brain. Significant irreversible brain damage occurs in the region around the blockage. Major strokes are an example of cerebral infarction.
  • Global cerebral ischemia: A complete stoppage of blood flow to the brain.

Cerebral hypoxia can also be classified by the cause of the reduced brain oxygen:[2]

  • Hypoxic hypoxia: Hypoxic hypoxia occurs when limited oxygen in the environment causes reduced brain function. Divers, aviators,[3] mountain climbers and fire fighters are all at risk for this kind of cerebral hypoxia. The term also includes oxygen deprivation due to obstructions in the lungs. Choking, strangulation, the crushing of the windpipe all cause this sort of hypoxia. Severe asthmatics may also experience symptoms of hypoxic hypoxia.
  • Hypemic hypoxia: Reduced brain function is caused by inadequate oxygen in the blood despite adequate environmental oxygen. Anemia and carbon monoxide poisoning are common causes of hypemic hypoxia.
  • Ischemic hypoxia (a.k.a. stagnant hypoxia): Reduced brain oxygen is caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain. Stroke, shock, and heart attacks are common causes of stagnant hypoxia. Ischemic hypoxia can also be created by pressure on the brain. Cerebral edema, brain hemorrhages and hydrocephalus exert pressure on brain tissue and impede their absorption of oxygen.
  • Histotoxic hypoxia: Histotoxic hypoxia is when oxygen is present in brain tissue, but cannot be metabolized. Cyanide poisoning is a well known example.


  1. "Hypoxia". The Gale Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders. The Gale Group, Inc. 2005. Retrieved on 2007-04-13 from Answers.com.
  2. "What is Hypoxia?". Gray Laboratory Cancer Research Trust. August 1, 1999. Retrieved on 2007-04-13 from Archive.org.
  3. Brooks, Kevin E. (May–June 2005). "Are you a hypoxia expert?". Approach. United States Navy Naval Safety Center. Retrieved 2007-04-13. This website provides hypoxia related safety tips for aviators working for the United States Navy aviators.