Hypoxic and Anoxic Brain Injuries

Medical Reviewer: Kenneth Ngo, MD
Last Updated: January 2, 2023

We know that when you or someone you love experiences a brain injury, it can be frightening and overwhelming for everyone involved. At Brooks, we specialize in traumatic brain injuries, and we’re happy to provide you with a better understanding of what brain injuries can look like, as well as available treatment options. Learning about the type of brain injury you or your loved one is faced with, and what can be done to address it, can help you be more confident in your decisions moving forward.

Hypoxic and anoxic injuries are different from the physical damage caused by blunt force trauma (though they can occur coincidentally). These types of injuries occur when the brain is deprived of oxygen. This article will discuss hypoxic and anoxic injuries in more detail, as well as the types of recovery options you might be offered if you enter a Brooks Rehabilitation program.

Hypoxic vs. Anoxic Brain Injury

Hypoxic and anoxic characterize different types of injuries according to how much oxygen deprivation the brain experiences. One familiar cause of these injuries is stroke, but they can arise whenever oxygen can’t reach the brain for any reason.

Hypoxic Brain Injury

Hypoxic injuries are characterized by a restricted flow of oxygen to the brain. When the brain cannot get enough oxygen, brain cells begin to die gradually, ultimately leading to impairment.

Anoxic Brain Injury

Anoxic injuries occur when oxygen flow to the brain is completely cut off. When this happens, brain cell death will begin around four minutes from the time of deprivation.

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Causes of Hypoxic and Anoxic Brain Injuries

The primary cause of these types of brain injuries is a lack of oxygen flow to the brain. Oxygen deprivation can arise for a variety of reasons, and stroke is one common cause. However, it can also occur if the lungs themselves experience trauma and are not able to take in oxygen properly, or if oxygen flow within the body is impaired for any reason.

In other words, if you experience a trauma that affects your body’s ability to take in and/or distribute oxygen, it can have profound effects on the brain as well, even if the initial problem did not originate in the brain. Because each injury is unique, and because the inciting incident may not appear to involve the brain at first, it can be helpful to know what the symptoms of these types of injuries can look like.

Symptoms of Anoxic or Hypoxic Brain Injuries

In many cases, people experiencing oxygen deprivation will lose consciousness initially. If they recover consciousness but don’t receive immediate treatment, they may notice both physical and behavioral symptoms:

Physical impairments:

  • Headache
  • Vision issues
  • Changes in sensory perception
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Apraxia (motor skill impairment)
  • Aphasia (difficulty speaking and forming words)
  • Seizure
  • Lack of bowel and bladder control
  • Memory problems

Behavioral changes:

  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Limited attention span
  • Disorientation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inappropriate behavior

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment at Brooks Rehabilitation

At Brooks, we understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for traumatic brain injury. Each individual case is unique. We have extensive experience in caring for patients with brain injuries of all magnitudes through the entire process of rehabilitation. We provide specialized care plans and interventions using the most innovative, scientifically supported treatments available.

Below, we cover the variety of treatment options and facilities in the Brooks Rehabilitation System of Care. Each of our programs specializes in a different stage of the recovery process. Whether you need extensive inpatient rehabilitation, short-term outpatient care, or anything in between, Brooks has you covered.

Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation Programs

There are a variety of treatment options available for hypoxic and anoxic brain injuries. Your doctor will devise an appropriate treatment plan. Below, we discuss two of our treatment programs and four of the most common types of therapies for brain injury.

Disorders of Consciousness

Beyond hospital admission, Brooks Rehabilitation offers a variety of highly specialized services to address brain injury. The Disorders of Consciousness (DoC) program is an inpatient program for people taking their first steps toward recovery. Started in 1999 at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, the DoC was specifically designed to help patients who present in a reduced or minimally conscious state following a neurological injury or illness.

The DoC’s mission is to produce individualized recovery plans for patients while also assisting caretakers so they can provide optimal at-home support upon discharge. Patients who have entered a comatose state can be admitted to our program upon regaining consciousness.

Brain Injury Day Treatment Program

The Brain Injury Day Treatment Program assists in the transition from inpatient treatment to at-home care. We provide therapy to improve cognitive function and emotional well-being. While the Day Treatment program begins with a careful evaluation of each patient, you are likely to be offered some combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy options.

Approaches to Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery

As we mentioned earlier, everyone’s treatment plan is unique. Your Brooks physician and nursing staff will work with you to develop a specialized plan that fits you or your loved one’s needs. Here’s a few examples of the kinds of treatments that your healthcare provider might recommend:

Physical Therapy Exercises for Brain Injury

Brain injury patients often come to us experiencing a range of motor issues, from reduced mobility and loss of balance to a total inability to walk or move around without assistance. We will work with you to create a personalized physical therapy plan to help you or your loved one regain mobility.

Occupational Therapy Exercises for Brain Trauma

The trauma that brain injury patients experience can greatly affect how they live their daily lives. Many people initially think about their job when they think of an occupation, but it also includes normal day-to-day activities. Occupational therapy helps patients re-learn what we call “activities of daily living,” which can include anything that occupies your time and is important for your well-being.

Occupations can range from self-care activities like showering and getting dressed to more complex activities such as those required to work at a job. We will work with you to create an occupational therapy treatment plan that helps you or your loved one get back to life prior to injury.

Cognitive Rehabilitation for Brain Injury

Cognition is a technical term for the processes involved in thinking. People who experience traumatic brain injury may face difficulties involving memory, attention, social behavior, safety judgment, and planning and carrying out future actions. Cognitive impairment impacts a person’s ability to care for themselves, keep appointments, complete tasks, or interact with people appropriately. At stake is the person’s ability to succeed at work, school, or home.

Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy aims at restoring a more normal life to the patient that better resembles their abilities prior to injury. Sometimes that involves directly strengthening abilities that have been lost or attenuated. Other times it teaches patients new skills to supplement those that are irrecoverable or will take a long time to return. An example of this kind would be developing a plan for supplementing memory loss with calendars, journals, and alarms.

Psychotherapy Treatment for Brain Trauma

Brain injury takes a toll on every aspect of the body, including and especially emotional well-being. Patients who experience traumatic brain injury can develop depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and a host of other issues either as a direct result of the injury or as a result of the trauma they experienced.

Suffering trauma to the brain is emotionally overwhelming even for people who never struggled with mental health prior to injury. We strongly recommend that if you experience brain trauma, you consider psychological services as part of your treatment regiment. Our psychologists specialize in helping with the kinds of issues that arise as a result of brain trauma.

Start on the Path to Personalized Treatment at Brooks Today

If you’re ready to get started with an individualized treatment plan, there are a few ways to reach out to us.


Many patients come to us through a referral from their doctor or hospital. If you or a loved one is currently in treatment, you should talk to your healthcare professional about getting more specialized care from Brooks Rehabilitation.

Reach out to us directly

If you are unsure what your needs might be, or want to learn more about our services, you have a few options. You can use our contact form to submit an online request for more information.

We’re looking forward to helping you or your loved one through recovery.

Medical Reviewer

Kenneth Ngo, MD

Medical Director of Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – University Campus, Medical Director of the Brain Injury Program & Brain Injury Day Treatment Program
Dr. Ngo is Board-Certified in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, with a subspecialty board certification in Brain Injury Medicine and has been at Brooks Rehabilitation since 2010. Dr. Ngo provides care for patients with complex, catastrophic neurological and other brain injuries, both inpatient and outpatient through the entire continuum of brain injury rehabilitation.
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