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Actress Anne Heche Declared 'Legally Dead' From Anoxic Brain Injury: Know About The Health Condition

Hollywood actor Anne Heche has been declared legally dead, one week after she crashed her car into a building, a spokesperson for the family said on Friday, August 12. Following the severe car collision in Los Angeles last week, Heche suffered "a severe anoxic brain injury" and was "not expected to survive," her family had announced a day earlier.

Her family and friends were hopeful that Anne Heche would survive the horrific car accident she was involved in last Friday, and were faced with making the difficult decision to remove her life support after she was pronounced brain dead. She was being kept on a ventilator until it is determined whether any organs that were not damaged in the crash and subsequent fire can be donated.

"We want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers for Anne's recovery and thank the dedicated staff and wonderful nurses that cared for Anne at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills hospital." Unfortunately, due to her accident, Anne Heche suffered a severe anoxic brain injury and remains in a coma, in critical condition. She is not expected to survive," the family's spokesperson said [1].


What Is Anoxic Brain Injury?

Anoxic brain injuries happen when you don't get enough oxygen to the brain, unlike traumatic brain injuries, which are caused by direct physical trauma. The most common cause of anoxic brain injuries is stroke, although stroke is not the only cause [2].

What Are The Causes Of Anoxic Brain Injury?

An anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen. The condition is extremely serious and can lead to severe disability, coma, or even death. A person can develop anoxic brain injury due to the following reasons [3]:

  • Stroke
  • Low blood pressure
  • Near drowning
  • Severe asthma attack
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Choking
  • Cardiac or respiratory arrest
  • Irregular heart rhythm or poor function of the heart muscle after a heart attack
  • Suffocation
  • Strangulation
  • A complication of general anaesthesia
  • Exposure to high altitudes
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Poisoning
  • Drug overdose
  • Electric shock

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Anoxic Brain Injury?

Anoxic brain injury can cause symptoms ranging from mild, short-term problems such as dizziness or concentration problems to severe, long-term problems such as vision, speech, and memory loss [4].

Anoxia will cause the body to increase blood flow to the brain in an effort to restore an adequate supply of oxygen. There is, however, only a possibility of increasing brain blood flow to about twice its normal level. Anoxia will result in brain dysfunction if this is not sufficient to compensate for the loss of oxygen.

Mild anoxic brain injury: A mild form of anoxia may result in problems with concentration, attention, coordination, and short-term memory that may be relatively subtle at first. Headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, increased breathing rate, and sweating may occur. In addition to a restriction in the field of vision, numbness or tingling may be experienced and feelings of euphoria [5].

Severe anoxic brain injury: Symptoms associated with severe anoxia include confusion, agitation, or drowsiness, as well as cyanosis - a blue colouration of the skin caused by low oxygen levels in the blood, commonly seen on the lips, mouth, and fingertips.

In addition to brief jerks of the limbs (myoclonus) and seizures, there may also be damage to the brain caused by a lack of oxygen. Depending on the severity of the anoxia, a person may lose consciousness and enter a coma [6].


Types Of Anoxic Brain Injury

Anaemic anoxia: Anaemic anoxia is caused when the blood cannot carry enough oxygen or if there is insufficient blood in the body to support the brain's oxygen requirements [7].

Toxic anoxia: Toxic anoxia occurs when chemicals or poisons interfere with the brain's ability to receive oxygen from the blood.

Anoxic anoxia: This occurs when there is insufficient oxygen in the air, causing suffocation.

Can Anoxic Brain Injury Be Treated?

From the details of what happened and the patient's condition at the time of hospitalization, it is usually quite easy to diagnose an anoxic brain injury at an early stage. However, anoxia may be caused by various factors so that the immediate treatment will depend on the particular circumstances. The goal in all cases is to restore a normal heartbeat, blood pressure, and adequate oxygenation of the brain.

In some instances, patients may undergo medically induced cooling, also known as therapeutic hypothermia. Evidence suggests that this may reduce brain cells' oxygen and energy requirements, thereby promoting recovery [8].

What Happens When A Person Has Anoxic Brain Injury?

Predicting the outcome of cerebral anoxia can be aided by several factors, including the following [9][10]:

Age: People over 50 tend to do less well overall than those under 50 with acquired brain injury, both in terms of the likelihood of surviving in the first place and in terms of long-term recovery.

Anoxic episode duration: Depending on the extent of the brain damage, the outcome will vary. It will depend on the time the brain was deprived of oxygen, which can often be estimated based on information about what occurred.

Duration of coma: After an anoxic episode, the duration of unconsciousness reflects the severity of the brain injury and aids in predicting the outcome.

Pupil reaction: When a bright light is shone into the eyes, the pupils will usually constrict. After a brain injury, however, this reflex may be lost, resulting in dilated and fixed pupils that do not react to light. In the case of an anoxic brain injury, this is not a positive sign which indicates that the brainstem is functioning abnormally.


On A Final Note…

The severity of the anoxia and the extent of irreversible brain damage will determine the long-term consequences. In cases of mild or short-lived anoxia, there is a high chance that a normal or near-normal level of functioning will be re-established.

However, if the anoxic injury is more severe, the outcome is less certain, and there are likely long-term effects. These problems vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the injury and the brain areas affected - in some cases, coma and death may result.

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