The Effects of Hypoxemia on the Body

The Effects of Hypoxemia on the Body

Hypoxemia is a condition that occurs as a result of low oxygen levels within the blood. When the lungs cannot provide the body with an adequate supply of oxygen, it can lead to the impaired functioning of other vital organs and bodily processes. One tool at LOOKEE® to measure oxygen levels is our LOOKEE® Sleep Oxygen Monitors that help you keep up-to-date on your nightly oxygen levels and heart rate.

In this article, we'll explore the causes and symptoms of hypoxemia, as well as how people can use pulse oximetry to understand their condition and prevent it from causing any further health complications. 

Possible causes of Hypoxemia

Since hypoxemia occurs when something prevents the body from receiving enough oxygen, several causes could cause the condition. Some of the most prevalent causes include:

Lung disease

Lung diseases, both chronic and acute, will have an indirect effect on the body's oxygen levels as they prevent the lungs from functioning as normal. Acute respiratory disease (ARDS), pulmonary embolisms, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, and pulmonary fibrosis are amongst the lung diseases that can cause a dramatic drop in blood-oxygen levels.

Sleep Apnea

While poor sleep quality is one of the major symptoms of sleep apnea, its long-term effects can severely impact the body by causing other risk factors such as low blood-oxygen levels. When the airway is obstructed during sleep apnea episodes, it usually results in a patient waking up since they cannot breathe. Repeated episodes over a long period of time can lead to the development of hypoxemia as the body is continuously deprived of oxygen.

External Factors

External causes of hypoxemia can be related to the environment, such as living in or being exposed to high altitudes and medication that can lower breathing rate and, thus, lower oxygen levels. These include different types of narcotics and anesthetics.

Symptoms of Hypoxemia

Symptoms of the condition may vary according to the specific type of hypoxemia present and its severity. A few common symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulties and shortness of breath.
  • Coughing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Rapid heartbeats.
  • Feeling disoriented, dazed, or confused.
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin).
  • Headaches.

Pulse Oximetry & Hypoxemia

Pulse oximetry is a procedure used to determine a person's SpO2 levels. With the use of pulse oximeters like the LOOKEE® A310 Premium Fingertip Pulse Oximeter, healthcare professionals can measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. 

Blood oxygen monitors display SpO2 readings as a percentage. If a person's red blood cells contained 97% oxygenated and 3% deoxygenated hemoglobin, their SpO2 would be 97%. Research done by The American Thoracic Society shows that healthy SpO2 levels are between 95 to 100 percent. Concerns should arise when SpO2 levels start to decrease below 89 percent, as this could be signs of a possible health condition. 

When the LOOKEE® Fingertip Pulse Oximeters detect abnormal blood-oxygen levels, an alarm will go off to show that medical attention may be required. Many of the devices feature a built-in plethysmograph to ensure accurate readings that can be taken in an instant. 

Types of Hypoxemia 

Ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) mismatch

This occurs when there is a high mismatch between the oxygen and blood supply to the lungs. An increased V/Q ratio occurs when the lungs receive sufficient oxygen, but there is a reduced blood flow. A decreased V/Q ratio occurs when there is a normal blood flow to the lungs, but they are not receiving enough oxygen.


To become oxygenated, deoxygenated blood normally travels from the right side of the heart so that it can be taken to the lungs and then to the left side, where it is distributed throughout the body. This form of hypoxemia occurs when deoxygenated blood travels through the left side of the heart and then throughout the body.


Hypoventilation occurs when there is a slow/ reduced oxygen intake. This eventually leads to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the blood than oxygen. It can result from conditions such as sleep apnea, where patients are deprived of oxygen while they sleep.

Low Environmental Oxygen

As mentioned earlier, high altitudes can cause hypoxemia. This is because as the altitude increases, the amount of oxygen present within the environment decreases. 

Hypoxemia Vs. Hypoxia

While the two sound similar, they indicate different conditions. Hypoxemia refers to low levels of oxygen within the blood, while hypoxia refers to low levels of oxygen within the body's tissues. Hypoxia can occur as a result of hypoxemia. If the blood traveling throughout the tissues and organs is not sufficiently oxygenated, then those tissues are also at risk of becoming deprived of oxygen.

Treatment & Prevention

Hypoxemia is a serious condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible to prevent any health complications. Since the body's organs and tissues require oxygenated blood to function normally, hypoxemia can damage them. If vital organs such as the lungs and heart are severely affected, the condition can become fatal if left untreated.

Oxygen therapy has been used as a treatment for hypoxemia. The patient is required to wear a mask that provides a regular supply of oxygen to raise the blood oxygen back to normal levels. Since hypoxemia can occur due to underlying conditions such as the different lung diseases mentioned above, the doctor will have to treat the condition as well.

Not all cases of hypoxemia can be prevented. However, patients can lower their risk of experiencing hypoxemia by managing lifestyle factors. For instance, people who suffer from sleep apnea and asthma should ensure that these conditions are managed.

People should also avoid using drugs and substances like cigarettes that can negatively affect the respiratory system. By keeping their lungs healthy, they will minimize the risk of lung infections and thus prevent the risk of hypoxemia.