What is a pulse oximeter and what data does it give us?

pulse oximeter, medical, finger

A pulse oximeter is one of the small medical devices that has found its place in many households since the onset of the coronavirus. It is a small and easy-to-use device that shows the level of blood oxygen saturation in just a few moments.

This is a device that can be used by people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and disorders and people who have some types of infections.

What is a pulse oximeter?
Every body system and organ in the human body needs oxygen for its proper functioning and survival. Without oxygen, the cells begin to work improperly and, as a result, die. Cell death causes serious symptoms and leads to the death of organs and then the whole organism.

The body delivers oxygen to the organs by filtering fa through the lungs. The lungs then take the oxygen into the bloodstream via the protein hemoglobin and red blood cells. It is these proteins that provide oxygen to the rest of the body.


A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the percentage of oxygen in hemoglobin, which we call oxygen saturation. For saturation, it usually shows how much oxygen the organs are getting.

Normal oxygen saturation is between 95 and 100%, and in cases where the saturation level falls below 90%, it is a threatened health condition and it is necessary to urgently consult a doctor.

How does a pulse oximeter work?
A pulse oximeter is a device that, like a clip, is placed on a finger (in smaller children, on the wrist or foot) and thus measures saturation. The reasons for the drop in oxygen saturation can be different, and the most common are:

infections, such as pneumonia
diseases, such as emphysema, lung cancer and lung infections
inhalation of toxic chemicals
heart failure or a history of heart attacks
allergic reactions
general anesthesia
A pulse oximeter works by sending light through a relatively transparent area of ​​the skin. The light passes through a detector located on the other side of the skin.

For example, when a pulse oximeter is attached to a finger, one side of the clip illuminates and the other side exposes it. The amount of light absorbed by the blood indicates oxygen saturation. A pulse oximeter does not measure oxygen saturation directly, but uses a complex equation and other data to estimate the exact level.

Advantages of using a pulse oximeter
A pulse oximeter is a good device for people who have conditions and diseases that affect oxygen saturation. In some cases, doctors use a pulse oximeter to ensure the safety of physical activity in people with cardiovascular or respiratory problems or recommend that a person wear an oximeter during activity.
The coordination of Croatian family medicine recommended the oximeter as a device that every household should have. High-risk patients should especially have it, because saturation below 94%, especially if it is accompanied by an increased number of respirations per minute and a subjective feeling of shortness of breath, is an indication for hospitalization.
Among the advantages of using a pulse oximeter are:
monitoring oxygen saturation over time
warning of dangerously low oxygen levels, especially in newborns
providing peace of mind to people with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular diseases
assessment of need for supplemental oxygen
monitoring the level of oxygen saturation in people under anesthesia
indicating dangerous side effects in people taking drugs that affect breathing or oxygen saturation.
What can you expect from a pulse oximeter?
Pulse oximeters are non-invasive devices, the use of which does not pose a risk. Some people may experience slight irritation such as redness, but the majority of users use the device without any problems.
For people who suffer from health concerns, or whose doctors have not explained the role of a pulse oximeter, its results can cause unnecessary worry. At the same time, pulse oximeters can give some people a false sense of security. Namely, these devices do not warn of all possible problems with oxygen and cannot serve as a substitute for other forms of monitoring or therapy of a health condition or disease.
People who use pulse oximeters should discuss the risks with a doctor and should keep a record of readings over time. Changes in readings, especially in response to changes in the environment, sometimes signal a health problem.pulsLimitations of the pulse oximeter
There are several factors that can affect the accuracy of the data displayed on the pulse oximeter, among them are:
Changes in heart rate
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Bilirubin levels
Lipids in blood plasma
Influence of external light or color, even nail polish
Cold hands or poor circulation
When using a pulse oximeter, always take into account your subjective feeling of your own condition. In case of difficulty breathing, nausea or other signs of insufficient oxygen, regardless of the results of the pulse oximeter, seek medical help immediately.

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