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Functions and Limitations of a Pulse Oximeter

The very basic function of a pulse oximeter is to measure the oxygen saturation level of a person. It is used to determine how many oxygen molecules are attached to the hemoglobin molecules found in the blood. A maximum of four oxygen molecules can attach themselves to one hemoglobin molecule.  The normal percentage of a person would be around 90 to 100 percent.

Oximeters are accessible to everyone because the oxygen levels can easily be monitored by just attaching them to a person. Doctors and nurses need not to be in contact to draw blood samples for patients. Within minutes, the machines will be able to show the oxygen saturation level. Even though they have a lot of benefits, there are also certain limitations.

The pulse oximeter functions with the use of a person’s pulse, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a pulse oximeter. It makes use of a light that responds to the pressure of a human pulse. Instead of extracting blood from the arteries, it measures the pressure of the arteries as they expand and contract. If the device is not placed properly on a patient, finding the pulse will be difficult. Conversely, if you can’t find the pulse, then the device can not be properly situated.

A person’s pulse is related to a person’s peripheral circulation. If you have a weak circulation, then you have the possibility to also have a weak pulse. As we have learned, a weak pulse will not help the pulse oximeter measure the blood-oxygen levels.   Fortunately, some versions of oximeters have a perfusion gauge to determine the circulation of the person. It can know in the body where the pulse will be strong. For example, if the pulse is difficult to find in the hands or fingers, the device can be set up in the earlobe or the bridge of the nose.

Other factors that can manipulate the readings of a pulse oximeter are the light in the room and a patient who is shivering uncontrollably. Since the device also uses light waves to operate, a brightly lit room can disrupt the outcome of results. Also, when a patient is shivering from colds or shock, it can alter the readings.

A pulse oximeter is truly useful and is considered a revolutionary medical invention. However, to make the most out of this device, one should be able to know all its capabilities and limitations.

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