Pulse oximetry is a noninvasive method for monitoring a person's oxygen saturation. Peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) readings are typically within 2% accuracy (within 4% accuracy in the worst 5% of cases) of the more desirable (and invasive) reading of arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2) from arterial blood gas analysis. But the two are correlated well enough that the safe, convenient, noninvasive, inexpensive pulse oximetry method is valuable for measuring oxygen saturation in clinical use.
In its most common (transmissive) application mode, a sensor device is placed on a thin part of the patient's body, usually a fingertip or earlobe, or in the case of an infant, across a foot. Fingertips and earlobes have higher blood flow rates than other tissues, which facilitates heat transfer. The device passes two wavelengths of light through the body part to a photodetector. It measures the changing absorbance at each of the wavelengths, allowing it to determine the absorbances due to the pulsing arterial blood alone, excluding venous blood, skin, bone, muscle, fat, and (in most cases) nail polish.