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A pulse oximeter measures a personís blood oxygenation level and their pulse rate. Since this information is related to a person's heart, blood and lung functions, an oximeter has many applications in daily life and in medical situations. Pulse oximeters are not exclusive or only necessary for people that suffers a chronic condition or for people in the emergency room of a hospital. Current pulse oximeters are inexpensive, practical , widely available and suitable for a wide variety of situations. Oximeters should be part of basic home medical supplies in any household. Here are some of its applications and uses.
Hypoxia. A patient with COPD or heart disease can have problems breathing. With a simple pulse oximeter like the MD300C23a patient can monitor his own condition by doing spot checks through the day as they see fit. There are other more sophisticated pulse oximeters like the CMS50FW or the CMS50EW-SLN that can record, store and print data. Those oximeters can be worn for hours at a time and the continuous data is stored for further analysis allowing the patient to record even during sleep or while performing their daily routines. Another big advantage of wearing this type of oximeters is that they have alarms that will sound off if your blood oxygen get below healthy levels. Recently the use of oximeters has been recommended to monitor oxygen therapy users to prevent them from over using oxygen. Pulse oximeters represent a cost saving measure for those patients with oxygen therapy needs and it also provides a warning before the patient feels sick.
General health. A healthy regular individual should have an oxygen saturation level (SpO2) at or above 96% and a resting heart rate from 60 to 100 beats a minute. Higher SpO2 level and lower heart rate means efficient heart and lung function and better cardiovascular fitness. For a well-conditioned person, his heart rate can approach 40 beats per minute. On the other hand a healthy person that does not work out regularly but still have a low heart rate approaching 50 beats per minute combined with a low oxygen saturation rate or SpO2, may have a condition called bradycardia
Some pulse oximeters can display the SpO2 waveform (pleth) with each wave corresponds to one heart beat. From this waveform, one can detect missed beats, tachycardia, bradycardia, ventricular arrest, bigeminy... All these patterns are signs of trouble.
Exercise. While exercising, one should push oneself up to certain level depending on one's physical conditions. This level can be measured using pulse rate and SpO2. The pulse rate measures the load placed on the heart and the SpO2 measures the stress on the entire body. These numbers are useful in pacing one's exercise and increasing overall fitness.
For most people, the estimated maximum heart rate equals to 220 minus age. For example, the maximum heart rate for a 60 years old would be 160. The target heart rate during exercise should be 60 - 80% of maximum heart rate depending on the person's condition. Exercise at 85% of maximum heart rate is not recommended.
Exercise can cause the SpO2 to drop. One should slow down when SpO2 drops to around 90%.
A pulse oximeter that records your data during exercise can also illustrate how fast is your recovery time between exercises or at the end of a long run. How hard did you pushed yourself by looking at how high your pulse rate went during the exercise. And how efficient your circulatory system is in getting your oxygen and pulse rate back to normal levels.
Heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to heart muscle is reduced or blocked. This would lead to irregular heartbeats and cause a decrease in the heart pumping function. This would lower the amount of oxygenated blood delivered to the body. A pulse oximeter can observe the irregular heart beat and mesure the sudden drop in SpO2.
For oximeters showing the pleth, one can see the irregular heart beats.
Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is common among older people. More than half of people older than 60 suffers from some form of sleep apnea. An apnea occurs when the breathing stops for 10 seconds or more and results in a drop in blood oxygen level. An oximeter is a good tool to screen and monitor sleep apnea. For more details, see Screening for Sleep Apnea.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS has been a significant factor in many baby fatalities worldwide and its exact causes have not been identified. SIDS happens when the baby suddenly stops breathing and is not able to revive himself. This occurs mostly during sleeping and to babies under 6 months old. An oxieter can detect and sound an alarm when the baby stops breathing; then the parent can wake up and save the baby.
Flying and mountain climbing (high altitude environment). At high altitude where oxygen concentration is low, a person may suffer from hypoxia (lack of oxygen). An oximeter can measure the oxygen level within seconds.
Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHDs). Since 2012, the use of pulse oximeter for screening CCHD has become routine in many medical facilities. The screening is simple and anyone can do it, even at home. Take two measurements - one on the hand and one on the foot. If any of the readings is above 95% and the two readings differ by less than 3%, the test is negative; if any reading is below 90%, the test is positive; otherwise repeat the test after a hour and if the same result is obtained after three trials, the test is positive. A positive result dictates further investigation.