What are the dangers of low oxygen saturation?

Written by robert alley | 13/05/2017
What are the dangers of low oxygen saturation?
Supplemental oxygen raises low oxygen saturation. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Oxygen saturation is a measure of the amount of oxygen in the blood with 100 per cent being the maximum. Normal blood oxygen levels, measured by a pulse oximeter, range from 95 to 100 per cent with below 90 considered low, according to the Mayo Clinic. Low oxygen saturation, or hypoxaemia, is a dangerous condition that presents serious ramifications if not treated promptly.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is one indicator of low oxygen saturation. It represents a dangerous condition that needs to be treated. Shortness of breath can be caused by several factors including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a group of lung diseases that block the flow of air. Emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis are two examples of those lung diseases that prevent sufficient oxygen from reaching the blood stream. Continued low oxygen saturation leads to permanent damage to the body's ability to breathe. COPD causes many deaths worldwide, according to the Mayo Clinic, and is primarily the result of smoking.


Oxygen provides energy for the body and its cells. Low oxygen saturation robs the cells of their source of energy. Fatigue, lethargy and muscle weakness represent symptoms of lack of energy. The cells are starved for oxygen and cannot respond like cells with a full supply. If you suffer from extreme fatigue, consider low oxygen saturation as a possibility. Have your blood levels tested. A simple test with an oximeter will provide the results.


The brain relies upon oxygen to function. Brain cells die without oxygen. Low oxygen saturation causes mental problems like confusion and short term memory loss. If these conditions are accompanied by other signs of low oxygen saturation like tingling fingers and a chronic cough, seek medical attention promptly.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

This condition occurs when travelling to high altitudes above 8,000 feet. The thin air at high altitudes has less oxygen, and the body can quickly become oxygen deprived. The air is also dry and dehydration becomes a problem. Symptoms include headaches, fluid retention and coughing in addition to shortness of breath. This condition can affect anyone travelling to high altitudes and is fatal if not treated promptly.

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