Pulse Oximetry

What is Pulse Oximetry?

Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive test that measures the oxygen levels in a person’s body. The results of the test can help doctors diagnose and monitor health issues, such as anemia, heart and lung problems, and sleep apnea. The test is typically quick and painless.

Why a Pulse Oximetry Test is Performed

Pulse oximetry tests are usually ordered by a doctor to measure the oxygen levels in a person’s blood. The test helps doctors determine how well a person's lungs and heart are working. The results can help to diagnose a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
  • Heart problems, such as congestive heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Anemia

Preparing for a Pulse Oximetry Test

Before the test, a person should make sure their doctor is aware of any medications they are taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbal remedies, and supplements. They may also need to avoid eating or drinking for a short time before the test.

How the Test is Performed

During the test, a small clip-like device, called a pulse oximeter, is placed on the person’s finger (or other body part, depending on the age and health of the person being tested). The device emits two different types of light-infrared light and visible light-which passes through the body. As the body absorbs the light, the device measures the amount of oxygen present in the blood.

Types of Pulse Oximetry

There are two types of pulse oximetry tests:

  • Invasive pulse oximetry: This type of test involves the placement of a catheter into the vein. The catheter is then connected to the pulse oximeter, allowing for more accurate readings.
  • Non-invasive pulse oximetry: This type of test involves the placement of the pulse oximeter on the finger or other body part without any punctures.

Risks and Complications

Pulse oximetry tests are generally safe, with few risks. However, some people may experience a slight discomfort when the clip-like device is placed on the finger or other body part. Additionally, people who have claustrophobia may find the device to be uncomfortable.

When to Call a Doctor

A person should contact a doctor if they have any questions or concerns about the pulse oximetry test. Additionally, if they experience any tingling, numbness, or pain in or around the testing area, they should seek medical advice.