What is a pulse oximeter?

September 8, 2017

Tunstall’s approach to connected health incorporates the use of several home monitoring instruments, including pulse oximeters. Pulse oximeters are small devices used to measure the amount of oxygen being carried around the body. The devices are useful tools for patients with chronic diseases and conditions, such as lung and heart disease, as they can easily be used at home to monitor oxygen levels and pulse.

Here is a more in-depth look at what a pulse oximeter does, how they work and why they are important.

The role of oxygen and blood in our bodies

Blood has many important jobs, one of which is to transport oxygen throughout our bodies.

The haemoglobin in red blood cells carries oxygen – a state which is described as ‘saturated in oxygen.’ The colour of blood is determined by this oxygen saturation, ranging from bright red arterial blood, which runs through your arteries away from your heart, to dark red venous blood running through your veins on the way back to your heart.

Haemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues around your body.

Arterial and venous blood contain different amounts of oxygen as they are pumped to and from the lungs. Venous blood arrives back in your lungs after delivering oxygen to tissues in the body with around 75 per cent of the haemoglobin saturated with oxygen. Once the blood has been oxygenated in the lungs, the heart then pumps the arterial blood back out to the body’s tissues, with about 98 per cent of the haemoglobin saturated with oxygen.

Low blood oxygen levels need to be addressed as soon as possible.

This transfer of oxygen throughout the body is crucial for overall health, and relies on arterial and lung circulation. All tissues depend on oxygen for survival, and the brain is especially susceptible to damage if the supply of oxygen to tissues is interrupted. A low level of oxygen saturation can cause hypoxia, where tissue is deprived of oxygen. This can cause lasting damage in your body and can even be fatal in some circumstances.

An oxygen level of more than 95 per cent is generally considered healthy. A level of 92 per cent typically means that there is not enough oxygen circulating in your blood, leaving the parts of your body furthest from your heart deprived. Low blood oxygen levels need to be addressed as soon as possible.

How does a pulse oximeter work? 

A pulse oximeter uses an LED light and detector to determine the oxygenation of haemoglobin in arterial blood, and therefore the efficiency of arterial and lung circulation.

A pulse oximeter is attached to the end of the patient’s finger to detects the flow of blood through the skin. The LED shines red and infrared light through the finger, and a detector then measures the change in wavelength and the absorbance of the light in arterial blood. Oxygenated haemoglobin absorbs more infrared light, allowing more red light to pass through, while deoxygenated haemoglobin absorbs more red light, letting more infrared light pass through.

The levels of light absorption means the peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) of arterial blood being circulated can be calculated. In this way, the pulse oximeter provides an easy, non-invasive method to accurately determine blood flow and tissue oxygenation. For people with certain medical conditions, measuring oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter is a vital part of their healthcare.

What conditions and diseases is a pulse oximeter used for?

Medical grade pulse oximeters can assist patients with monitoring health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, emphysema, severe asthma or chronic bronchitis to monitor their oxygen levels from home. Patients with serious cardiac conditions can also keep an eye on their oxygen levels so they know when they need to use supplementary oxygen.

The benefits of a home pulse oximeter

Pulse oximeters can also be useful when it comes to fitness. Exercise is an important way for patients to maintain or improve their physical health, but it can easily lead to shortness of breath. A pulse oximeter allows patients to keep track of their oxygen saturation so they can adjust the pace if necessary and workout at safe levels.

A pulse oximeter allows people to keep track of their oxygen saturation at home.

With a pulse oximeter on hand, it is easier to catch low oxygen levels before they lead to hypoxia. They are non-invasive, easy to use and can give a reading in seconds, enabling patients to take control of this aspect of their healthcare from the comfort of their own home. Fewer hospital visits make it easier to enjoy a more independent lifestyle.

Tunstall’s connected health packages can incorporate a pulse oximeter as part of an overall care plan, for home monitoring of a range of chronic diseases and conditions. To find out more about our connected health service, or to discuss your options, please contact us on 1800 603 377 or reach out to us via info@tunstallhealthcare.com.au. We’re always here to help!

 

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One thought on “What is a pulse oximeter?

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