lacking Oxygen – what are the symptoms?

Oxygen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. It’s a bit ironic, then, that people with breathing problems can’t seem to get enough of it. The body needs a certain amount of circulating oxygen in the blood at all times to effectively nourish the cells, tissues, and organs. When blood oxygen levels drop below normal, a condition known as hypoxemia may occur.

Hypoxemia can be acute, occurring suddenly because of an emergency situation, or chronic, taking place over time because of a long-term health condition like COPD.  Hypoxemia is the main reason that people with COPD are prescribed supplemental oxygen. But many people with COPD are unaware that they’re hypoxemic and, unless prompted to do so for another reason, they don’t immediately seek medical attention. This is unfortunate, because hypoxemia associated with COPD contributes to a reduced quality of life, impaired skeletal muscle function, decreased exercise tolerance and an increased risk of death.1 If you or a loved one have COPD or another chronic illness that puts you at greater risk for hypoxemia, it’s important that you’re able to recognize signs and symptoms of lack of oxygen so that appropriate action can be taken if, or when, it occurs.

Symptoms of lacking Oxygen in Blood (Hypoxemia)

Low oxygen symptoms of hypoxemia vary depending upon its severity. If you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms listed below, contact a health care provider as soon as possible:

  • Confusion
  • A sense of euphoria
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and/or fainting spells
  • Lack of coordination
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Visual disturbances
  • A bluish tint to the lips, earlobes, and/or nail beds (cyanosis)
  • Elevated red blood cell count or polycythemia (if a long-term problem)

Monitoring Oxygen Levels at Home

The best way to detect hypoxemia is through arterial blood gases (ABGs), however, this is generally not possible in the home setting unless you have a doctor’s order for a home care nurse or respiratory therapist. Although it should not be used to replace ABGs in the initial diagnosis of lung disease and the evaluation for long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT), a pulse oximetry monitor plays an important role in the home monitoring of patients with lung disease,2 whether they’re using supplemental oxygen, or not. In fact, along with blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and temperature, oxygen saturation is now considered to be the fifth vital sign in many institutions.3

A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive device that measures the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin in the blood. Because it is able to rapidly detect changes in oxygen saturation, it can provide a warning to patients and health care providers alike of impending or existing hypoxemia.3

Normal oxygen saturation levels run between 95% and 100%, but it’s typical for patients with lung disease to run lower. Nonetheless, once oxygen saturation levels drop consistently to 88% and below at rest, a patient should be evaluated for supplemental oxygen therapy.4

What to Do if Oxygen Saturation Levels are Low

If you’re not already using supplemental oxygen and you’re experiencing symptoms of hypoxemia and/or low oxygen saturation levels, don’t wait; contact your health care provider immediately to see about being evaluated for LTOT. Oxygen therapy is appropriate for many conditions that cause hypoxemia, COPD included.

If you are a current user of supplemental oxygen and experiencing symptoms of hypoxemia and/or low oxygen saturation levels, troubleshoot your oxygen equipment to make sure it’s working correctly. If troubleshooting doesn’t resolve the issue, contact your health care provider; you may need an adjustment in your oxygen dose or your current course of treatment.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

1Kent, Brian D., et. al. Hypoxemia in patients with COPD: cause effects and disease progression. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2011; 6: 199–208. Published online 2011 March 14. DOI:  10.2147/COPD.S10611.
2Pierson, DJ. Pulse oximetry versus arterial blood gas specimens on long-term oxygen therapy. Lung. 1990;168 Suppl:782-8.
3International COPD Coalition. Clinical Use of Pulse Oximetry. Pocket Reference. 2010.
4WebMD. COPD and Oxygen Therapy Guidelines: When is it Necessary? Updated 2013.

Hold the SUGAR!

If you were to add a few teaspoons to coffee, then snack on toast with jam, and choose pop and barbecue chips at lunch – guess what? You would have just consumed 18 teaspoons (72 grams) of sugar.

Sugar contains simple carbohydrates but no other nutrients, and because it is in so many food products, it can add significant calories to your diet if you’re not careful. Read on to learn about sugar and how you can decrease your daily intake. One teaspoon (4 g) of sugar equals 15 calories.

Why you should cut back

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian eats about 23 teaspoons (92 grams) of added sugar each day from a combination of packaged and prepared foods. That’s a lot of sugar, considering that the Dietary Reference Intakes suggest we consume no more than 12 teaspoons (48 grams) of added sugar in a 2,200 calorie diet.

Sugar naturally occurs in fruit, vegetables and milk, but these are not considered “added” sugars and are not part of the 12-teaspoon (48 grams) daily maximum. These foods provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals and are important dietary staples.

So if you’re eating 23 tsp/92 g of added sugars a day, it means you’re ingesting 345 empty calories. If you fill up on sweets instead of more nutritious foods such as vegetables, fish and whole grains, your diet can become deficient in important nutrients. High-sugar diets may contribute to obesity and increased triglyceride levels, which are both risk factors for heart disease.

Where’s the sugar?

Most Canadians know that candy and pop contain lots of sugar. But what surprises most people is that foods such as tomato sauce, deli meats, salad dressing and barbecue chips are also loaded with sugar. Even though these foods may not taste sweet, they can still contain “hidden” sugar, since sweeteners can be used as preservatives, browning agents or to provide texture. If you don’t see the word “sugar” on an ingredient list, look for these alternative descriptions:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose/fructose or high fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Cane juice
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup (corn, malt, golden, maple, refiner’s)

When these words appear in the ingredient list, the sugar content may be high. Use the Nutrition Facts table to determine total sugar content. Four grams is equal to a teaspoon of sugar, so a food with 16 g of sugar would contain four teaspoons of the sweet stuff.

Are some sweeteners better than others?

All sweeteners are high in calories and low in overall nutritional value, so you need to watch the total amount of added sugar you consume, regardless of the type. If you must use a sweetener, opt for maple syrup, honey or molasses, since they have more antioxidants than corn syrup or white sugar.While options such as brown sugar or honey contain trace amounts of minerals, you’d have to eat cups and cups (which I don’t recommend!) for the amounts to be nutritionally significant.  


Athletes Keep Tabs on Low Oxygen Levels with Pulse Oximeter

Athletes and sports stars the world over use oxygen to increase recovery time and reduce lactic acid build-up. Low oxygen levels can cause fatigue, headaches, nausea and a general feeling of ill health. While some people may accept these symptoms as a side effect of strenuous exercise, identifying low oxygen levels in the first place could be the perfect prompt to take supplemental oxygen. A pulse oximeter is compact, light and easy to use anytime and anywhere. It has been designed to be used in a variety of situations to monitor blood oxygen saturation levels, and in particular to take a spot check before during and after exercise. If you partake in recreational sports such as scuba diving, mountaineering or mountain biking, you too could benefit from checking for low oxygen levels. A study in Germany revealed that athletes that took supplemental oxygen for ten minutes a day over a 6 week periods greatly improved their overall sporting performance.


Canadian health groups warn against commercial ultrasounds

The doctors who treat pregnant women are warning mothers-to-be against using “entertainment” ultrasounds solely to determine the sex of their fetuses.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, along with the Canadian Association of Radiologists, put out a new joint policy statement this week calling for an end to ultrasounds offered by non-medical clinics.



The Globe and Mail


Parks ministers urging Canadians to ‘go play outside!

A report from the Canadian Parks Council links time spent outdoors with lower blood pressure and stress levels, and increased environmental ethics. “It’s truly amazing to think that in a country as beautiful as Canada . . . that we would ever house a population that spends 90 per cent of their time indoors,” said Richard Starke, Alberta’s minister of tourism, parks and recreation.

The loss of a connection with nature is having major consequences on social, economic and environmental health in Canada, a new report by the Canadian Parks Council suggests.

On Friday, ministers from federal, provincial and territorial governments met in Toronto to discuss the report and find ways to reconnect people with nature.

“This is an issue of national interest, because Canadians’ relationship with the natural world is changing,” said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

Within a generation, the first-of-its-kind report on the importance of nature suggests the country has gone from being a rural to an urban nation — with 80 per cent of Canadians now living in cities. It notes that Canadians are spending 90 per cent of their time indoors, adding increasingly sedentary lifestyles are contributing to chronic health issues such as obesity, heart disease and depression.

Richard Starke, Alberta’s minister of tourism, parks and recreation, said it’s startling how quickly the numbers have changed.

“It’s truly amazing to think that in a country as beautiful as Canada — renowned the world over as Canada is for its natural beauty and world-class parks system and green space in abundance — that we would ever house a population that spends 90 per cent of their time indoors,” he said, “but that’s exactly what the numbers are telling us.”

Starke said it needs to stop.

“We are going to start inspiring Canadians to rediscover nature and all that it has to offer,” he said, noting Alberta alone has 28,000 square kilometres of provincial parks and a wide range of recreational activities.

The report suggests getting out in nature not only lowers blood pressure and stress levels, it contributes to the economy by creating outdoor tourism and recreation opportunities, and nurtures environmental ethics.

Conservationists said it’s a timely report.

“As we face increasing pressures on the environment from land use and climate change, we need people to understand the importance of the natural world,” said Wendy Francis, program director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “If you don’t spend time in nature and don’t feel connected to it, then you won’t understand it or feel the need to defend it.”

Francis added that it’s a societal transformation that’s required.

“Parks are part of the solution, but they aren’t the only solution,” she said, noting parents and schools also play an important role in getting children playing outdoors.

Starke, who co-chaired the meeting, said the report serves as a starting point to reconnect Canadians with nature.

Some of the commitments by the parks ministers include developing a national parks passport for Canadians, linking web-based platforms from parks across the country; and sharing programs across provincial boundaries.

“It’s time to unplug from our technology and reconnect with nature,” said Starke. “It’s like mom always said, ‘Go play outside.’

“Mom was right on this one and it’s time we all started listening.”

 Source: The Calgary Herald