How to Read a Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

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If you have or plan to get a fingertip pulse oximeter for home use, you might have noticed that there are a few different numbers and symbols that show up on the screen. So what do they all mean?

If you’re looking for the answer to the above question, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll tell you how to use and how to read a fingertip pulse oximeter, so you can do it on your own at home and understand your results.

How to Use a Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

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Before we get into how to read your fingertip pulse oximeter, let’s first make sure you know how to properly use it (if you already know this, skip to the next section on how to read your results).

Step 1: Check to make sure your hands and fingers aren’t cold. If they are, rub your hands together to improve blood flow and warm them up. This will make sure you get a more accurate reading.

Step 2: Squeeze the end of the pulse oximeter to open the clip, place your index finger inside and over the sensor, and close the clip over your finger. You may feel slight pinching or pressure around your finger, but this is normal and will make sure the pulse oximeter stays in place to get an accurate reading.

Step 3: Press the power on button and try to stay as still as possible while the pulse oximeter takes your reading. For the most accurate results wait at least 10 seconds to get your reading (some pulse oximeters even recommend waiting 30 seconds). This gives the pulse oximeter time to stabilize and get to a point where it’s most sensitive. Another thing to remember is that nail polish or fake fingernails can cause false readings, so I recommended removing either of these before taking your reading.

Step 4: Once the pulse oximeter stabilizes, it will display your results on the screen.

Step 5: Remove the pulse oximeter from your finger, and it should power off on it’s own.

Now that you know how to properly and accurately get your readings from your fingertip pulse oximeter, let’s discuss how to read and interpret them.

How to Read a Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

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It’s important to note that the type of parameters and how they’re displayed can vary between pulse oximeters. Here, I’ll cover the main parameters fingertip pulse oximeters typically use and how they’re displayed.

Oxygen saturation: This is the amount of oxygen in the blood. It’s labeled as the “SpO2” on a pulse oximeter and/or is a number that’s shown as a percentage (%). A normal reading is usually between 95-100%.

Pulse rate: This is your heart rate. The units for pulse rate is always given in beats per minutes (bpm). On your pulse oximeter, it can be displayed with “PR”, “PR/min”, “PRbpm” or something of that variety next to it. For some fingertip pulse oximeters, you might also see a heart shape next to it. Normal pulse rate is usually between 60-100 beats per minute.

Perfusion index: This tells you the strength of your pulse. Not all fingertip pulse oximeters will give you a perfusion index reading. If they do, it’s usually displayed as “PI” and as a percentage value (%). A value of less than 0.2% means that either your finger is not properly positioned on the pulse oximeter sensor or your hands are too cold because of improper blood flow. Pulse oximeters that measure the perfusion index are helpful so you know if your pulse is strong enough to give an accurate reading.

Pulse strength: Not all pulse oximeters will show pulse strength. This is usually a visual representation of how strong your pulse is and is often shown as a series of bars increasing in height. A strong pulse strength (or more bars) is a good sign that you will get a more accurate reading.

As you can see, using a pulse oximeter is pretty easy. And hopefully, the above is helpful to you in interpreting your fingertip pulse oximeter results.

As always, it’s important to stay in communication with your doctor about your use of your pulse oximeter at home and your readings.

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