Jan. 3, 2023 — What can happen if your brain loses oxygen for an extended period?

During Monday night’s Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals game, NFL fans watched nervously as Bills safety Damar Hamlin lay flat on this back surrounded by medical personnel, teammates, and coaching staff. 

Hamlin, 24, had just tackled a Bengals receiver late in the opening quarter when he stood up and immediately collapsed.

The Buffalo Bills, in a statement, said Hamlin had experienced cardiac arrest on the field and is sedated and in critical condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

Cardiac arrest is when there is an electrical malfunction to the heart — which can create an irregular heartbeat– and the heart’s pumping function is compromised, according to Laxmi Mehta, MD, director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. When this happens, there is not effective pumping of blood to organs, including the brain and lungs, and severe damage can occur. 

Hamlin had his heartbeat restored on the field after nearly 10 minutes of CPR and oxygen via an AED machine, better known as a defibrillator, a medical device that delivers an electrical shock to help your heartbeat return to normal rhythm, according to reports.

Since crucial information of Hamlin’s condition has yet to be released publicly, certain — now widely circulated — details of Hamlin’s injuries can still be deemed “speculation,” Mehta says. Therefore, while Hamlin may have received CPR and oxygen assistance for several minutes, we can’t be certain “he didn’t get adequate [oxygen] flow.”  

“The point of doing CPR is you’re doing those chest compressions — you’re forcing the heart to pump. So we would assume he had a circulation of blood flow to the brain. But if people don’t get CPR done in a timely fashion, or if they don’t get effective chest compressions, then yes, there can be a lack of adequate blood flow, lack of oxygen, and can cause some brain damage,” she says.

This phenomenon, called anoxic brain injury, can result in stroke-like effects, including seizures, the inability to move certain body parts, slurred speech, and trouble forming sentences, says Mehta. 

Check back for more updates on this story.

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