Signs & symptoms of low oxygen saturation

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Confusion, tightness in the chest and the inability to breathe are all very frightening feelings. They are also signs of a body experiencing low oxygen saturation levels or, what is referred to by medical professionals, hypoxaemia. Hypoxaemia is diagnosed when levels of oxygen within the blood are extremely low. This condition can have a variety of medical causes; having low levels of oxygen saturation can cause a body not to function properly. This condition is diagnosed by a blood test or a small pulse oximeter which is clipped to the finger.


Cyanosis is a medical term to describe when the skin and mucous membranes take on a blue colour. This happens from a lack of oxygen in the blood. Haemoglobin is a protein in blood that receives oxygen from the lungs. When haemoglobin does not have access to the oxygen it needs, it turns blue causing the blood to have a bluish tint. When a person is experiencing low oxygen saturation, this blue hue is seen most commonly in their finger and toenail beds as well as their lips. Cyanosis is derived from the Greek word "cyanos" which means dark blue.


Dyspnea on exertion, referred to at times as air hunger, is when a person has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some people who are experiencing dyspnea may feel weak or tired. They may find themselves wheezing or having coughing spells. Other symptoms are a tight feeling in the chest or struggling for breath. Given that our bodies usually breathe without a conscious effort, finding oneself breathless is very alarming; panicking may exacerbate the feeling.


Tachypnea is a term that describes faster-than-normal breathing. The number of breaths taken per minute varies, depending on factors such as a person's age; therefore, tachypnea is diagnosed when someone is exceeding the norm for their age bracket. This is very similar to hyperventilating; however, people are usually considered to be hyperventilating when they are feeling anxious. Although some medical professionals may interchange the two terms, a diagnosis of tachypnea is usually used when a person is suffering from low oxygen saturation.

Decreased Level of Consciousness

Medical professionals take seriously any person showing a decreased level of consciousness since it can be a symptom of a much larger medical issue. A person experiencing low oxygen saturation levels may display mental confusion. A decrease in a person's mental state is evident when they cannot perform at their usual level. For example a person may be unable to recognise people or places with which they are familiar. They may also be unclear on the present date or possibly their city or present location.

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