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A to Z: Hypoxemia

Also 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

Every breath you take brings oxygen into your lungs. That oxygen moves from the lungs into the red blood cells, traveling in the tiny blood vessels called capillaries. From there, the oxygen and red blood cells travel to all parts of the body. Without enough oxygen, the body — including the brain — can't work as it is supposed to. When the amount of oxygen in the blood is lower than normal, that's called hypoxemia.

Hypoxemia usually means that some medical condition is causing too low a blood oxygen level. Many medical conditions can cause hypoxemia, including blocked airways, diseases of the lungs and respiratory system, congenital heart defects, and sleep apnea. Being at high altitudes also can cause the oxygen level in the blood to be too low. Hypoxemia can even be the result of shallow breathing. People with hypoxemia can be short of breath, and feel sick or dizzy.

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

To treat hypoxemia, doctors focus on treating what is causing the lowered blood oxygen level.

Keep in Mind

Hypoxemia is not a medical condition by itself. To treat hypoxemia, the condition causing it must be treated.

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

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