A to Z: Hypoxemia

A to Z: Hypoxemia

May also be called: Low Blood Oxygen

Hypoxemia (hih-pok-SEE-mee-uh) is a condition in which there is a lower than normal level of oxygen in the blood.

More to Know

With every breath, air fills the lungs, and oxygen moves to the blood through capillaries (tiny blood vessels) in the lungs in a process called diffusion. Once oxygen is in the blood, it travels to all parts of the body to be used for all of the body’s functions, from moving limbs to digesting food. When the concentration of oxygen in the blood is lower than it’s supposed to be, the condition is known as hypoxemia.

Hypoxemia is a symptom of an underlying condition. Many medical conditions can cause it, including blocked airways, diseases of the lungs and respiratory system, congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, and high altitudes. Hypoxemia can even be the result of shallow breathing. It’s typically marked by shortness of breath that can get worse after physical activities.

To diagnose hypoxemia, doctors usually take samples of blood from the arteries to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. Oxygen levels also can sometimes by estimated using a pulse oximeter — a small device that clips onto a finger.

To treat hypoxemia, doctors focus on treating its underlying cause.

Keep in Mind

Hypoxemia is not a medical condition by itself. To treat hypoxemia, the condition causing it must be treated. If hypoxemia is the result of shallow breathing, the treatment can be as simple as doing deep-breathing exercises. It also can be helpful to make sure someone with hypoxemia gets adequate nutrition and fluids to help supply energy to the lungs.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.