pulse oximeter

What Is A Pulse Oximeter And When Is It Used?

A Pulse Oximeter is a small & lightweight monitor, which attach to a fingertip painlessly to monitor the amount of oxygen in the blood. Cardiac and respiratory failures are among the leading causes of deaths globally. If the issues with heart are well recognized, people somewhat neglect the importance of respiratory health and monitoring. Therefore if a person has high blood pressure, everyone knows what to do and how to monitor it. If there is a pain in the heart or even somewhere nearby, a person rushes to a doctor. Everyone knows the need of getting ECG.

Chronic obstructive lung disease is the third leading cause of death globally. But do you know what respiratory tests should be done to measure the respiratory function? Many people would keep on complaining about a cough, difficulty in breathing, but would not even take things seriously; they would not even quit smoking.

We get energy for staying healthy, for keep moving, through oxidation of organic compounds like carbs and fats, that we get through food. This process is quite like burning of wood or coal, but in a more controlled way, and at a slower speed.

If we get organic compounds for energy by food, we get oxygen through respiration. A continuous supply of oxygen, 24 hours a day, is essential to keep the furnace of our body burning. If this furnace stops or malfunctions, we cannot survive. Exchange of gases that is inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide occurs in lungs. From lungs, our blood takes the oxygen to various parts of our body.

What are specific tests for breathing functionality?

Quite like ECG and blood pressure monitoring, there are tests that are specific for respiratory system functioning. Some are better done in diagnostic labs, while other can be performed at home. In fact, many of the instrument or devices to check respiratory function are quite affordable these days, and yet they provide information and accuracy equal to the hospital equipment.

Pulse oximeter- an affordable and precise way to measure respiratory function

A pulse oximeter is one such device that has made inroad from the diagnostic labs to homes. It is even cheaper than any blood pressure measuring device, and yet it provides such precious information about the respiratory function.

What does pulse oximeter tell?

First of all, it gives information regarding the content of oxygen in the blood. This fantastic small device worn on a finger can continually measure the content of oxygen in our blood. Most healthy people would show the oxygen concentration of 98% (SpO2) or above. Anything below 90% is a reason for worry, and a cause to seek immediate medical attention. Level of oxygen below 90% in the blood says about highly compromised oxygen concentration in the blood.

Heart rate and pulse characteristics – yes, measuring the pulse have been an essential part of  Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine system. In old times, traditional doctors would be able to tell all about person’s health by just measuring the regularity of pulse or by characterizing the pulse. Pulse oximeter would provide information about how frequently a person’s heart beats, with experience one may even be able to say the changes in a characteristic of the pulse. Thus to some extent pulse oximeter not only provides information about respiration but also about the heart health.

It is essential to understand that heart health and respiratory health has an interconnection, thus if a heart is feeble and does not pump enough blood then lungs would not be able to intake enough of oxygen. Similarly, when lungs are not working correctly, heart tries to compensate by increasing the heart rate and thus increasing the blood supply. Thus understanding the interrelationship between the two is necessary for coming to the right conclusion.

How does Pulse Oximeter work?

Pulse oximeter looks quite like clothes peg or clothespin. Yes, the clip kind of thing that is used to prevent clothes flying away, when drying in open air. However, unlike clothes peg, the pulse oximeter is worn on any one of the fingers, although medical research shows that most accurate results come from the right middle finger or right thumb. Another thing to make sure when using pulse oximeter is that hands are warm; it is especially crucial in winters. Since cold hand says about inadequate blood flow to fingers and thus may show a wrong reading.

So how does this simple clip-like device work?

First of all, one must understand that it is an entirely non-invasive device. It means that there is no pricking of skin, no taking of drop of blood or anything like that. Pulse oximeter just transmits the lights, and then based on the light reflected by blood below the skin, it can calculate the oxygen saturation.

It works on the principles of calorimetry. We all know that surfaces of a different color would reflect the light differently. Likewise, saturated blood is bright red, while less oxygen saturated blood becomes darker in color. Thus pulse oximeter has a light-emitting diode and sensor to measure the light reflected back. So this very simple device can provide so much of information, it can accurately see how the blood and oxygen flow in the capillaries below the skin.

Thus for lung health, keep an eye on it by using a pulse oximeter, and exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise is one of the best forms of exercises for increasing lung volume, capacity, and oxygen concentration in blood.

Published by

Dr. Aleksandar Grbovic

Hi! My name is Aleksandar Grbovic. I’m a radiology resident with five years of experience in General Medicine. As a medical writer, I have only one goal in my mind - to bridge the gap between doctors and patients point of view by breaking down complex medical topics and presenting them in lay people language. Knowing that my writing might help someone out there connect the dots is what keeps me motivated.

2 thoughts on “What Is A Pulse Oximeter And When Is It Used?

  1. I have a CPAP and I was wondering if this device can be an indication of weather the device is functioning properly or not

  2. Two questions: 1. I am interested in knowing what equipment you have and use at home for your workouts. 2. What type of oximeter and how do you manage to wear it effectively during exercises and walking? I am on oxygen and have not been able to effectively use my oximeters during walking/exercising. Any tips greatly appreciated. I enjoy your encouraging posts and greatly admire your health maintenance spunk. Thank you.

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