The cells of the body require a constant supply of oxygen from the bloodstream in order to function properly. Low blood oxygen levels, or hypoxaemia, causes disruption in normal body functioning and can lead to body tissue damage.
Blood Oxygen Measurement
According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors test blood oxygen levels with an arterial blood test or oximeter. Normal levels of oxygen in the blood of patients at sea level can range between 95 and 100 per cent of oxygen saturation; low oxygen levels are below 90 per cent; and severe hypoxaemia occurs below 80 per cent saturation.
Shortness of breath is the primary symptom of hypoxaemia. Low blood levels of oxygen may cause confusion, fatigue or a reduced ability to exercise.
Hypoxaemia Medical Causes
Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and pneumonia are major causes of low blood oxygen levels. Heart disease, anaemia and shock can also cause hypoxaemia.
Hypoxaemia Environmental Causes
Hypoxaemia can affect otherwise healthy people who are exposed to poisonous levels of carbon monoxide, engage in strenuous exercise or spend time at high altitudes.
When to See a Doctor
Individuals with severe shortness of breath that affects their ability to function normally should get immediate medical help. Hypoxaemia sufferers at high altitudes may develop insomnia, fluid retention and headaches and need to see a doctor right away.