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What is Pulse Oximetry?
Pulse oximetry has been identified as a critical tool to address a wide variety of chronic disease states including respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (e.g. emphysema, bronchitis), obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and various cardiovascular conditions. It has a critical role in the diagnosis of pediatric pneumonia, pre-eclampsia, and sepsis, and is used during surgeries to monitor patients.
How Does Pulse Oximetry Work?
Pulse oximetry is a diagnostic method that measures functional oxygen saturation of arterial hemoglobin. This is known as oxygen saturation or Sp02. A conventional pulse oximeter sensor shines two light beams of different wavelengths (red and infrared) through the blood that is circulating in the small blood vessels of the finger, and then detects the amount of light that is able to pass through the extremity. Hemoglobin carrying oxygen (red blood) absorbs more infrared light and allows more red light to pass than hemoglobin without oxygen (blue blood) which allows more infrared light to pass. The oxygen saturation is expressed as a percentage of hemoglobin that has oxygen attached to it. One hundred percent oxygen saturation is attained when all the hemoglobin in the blood is completely saturated with oxygen.
This is particularly important for detecting hypoxemia, a condition in which the arterial blood is not sufficiently oxygenated. Early detection of hypoxemia can prevent significant clinical complications and death. A compromised ability of the lungs to absorb oxygen is associated with many infectious and inflammatory diseases or with airway management problems during anesthesia. Early detection of low oxygen saturation allows for timely referral and early administration of simple, life-saving treatments before overt clinical deterioration.
Since its introduction into operating rooms in the 1980s, pulse oximetry is routinely used to monitor patients who are under anesthesia during surgery. Its use has spread throughout the hospital so that any patient with unstable oxygen levels may be monitored; for example, in the intensive care unit, the emergency department, or on the ward. People living with respiratory disorders can also use pulse oximeters at home.