How does a pulse oximeter work?

pulse oximeter photoYou know those things that they clip to your finger when you’re in the hospital that are connected to a cable that connects to a machine that beeps. Well they’re called pulse oximeters and they measure the amount of oxygen in your blood and your heart rate.

What’s really interesting is how they do this: one side has a pair of LEDs, each of a different wavelength, that shine light through your finger; on the other side is a detector that detects this light. Because oxygenated blood and deoxygenated blood absorb the light at different rates, the changes in the reception of the light can be used to calculate both oxygen saturation in the blood and heart rate. All without needing to stick anything inside you or draw any blood. Neato.


oliver's picture
oliver on May 1, 2009 - 02:50

See, I’d guessed that was how they worked without ever having to Google. I knew those five years of grad school were good for something.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 1, 2009 - 13:39

Also shows how dimwitted I am: I would have never figured that out on my own.

oliver's picture
oliver on May 1, 2009 - 16:28

You’re a hacker, Peter. You figure stuff out before it exists. I just remembered something I learned in school.

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