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How long can the brain go without oxygen?

Few in North Adams may truly have a full appreciation for how remarkable the human brain is. Its capacity to process information and generate rapid sensory response causes researchers to marvel even today. Yet for as extraordinary as the brain is, it’s also extremely delicate. Brain injuries that deprive it of precious oxygen can leave one with debilitating damage. This begs the question of exactly how long one can go without oxygen before permanent brain damage occurs.

According to the website HumanNeurophysiology.com, the brain consumes roughly 25 percent of the body’s total oxygen supply. The deprivation of that supply following an accident or injury can cause brain cells to die. This is what’s known as anoxic brain damage. Common causes of the conditions that can lead to such damage can be:

  •          Heart attack
  •          Stroke
  •          Lung disease
  •          Drowning
  •          Choking

Prolonged periods of time spent at high altitudes where there is less oxygen in the air or exposure to certain chemicals or poisons can also lead to oxygen deprivation to the brain.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that as little as four minutes of insufficient oxygen to the brain can cause permanent brain damage. Once one has stopped breathing, CPR in conjunction with chest compressions can be performed to deliver oxygen to the lungs and keep blood circulating. Companies and facilities are encouraged to have someone on staff that can perform such treatment in the event of an accident.

Recovery following anoxic brain damage depends largely on the amount of time one’s brain went without oxygen. Those with mild damage may be able to regain many of their lost motor and sensory functions, while others may never completely recover. 

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