Robert R. Fluck Jr., MS, RRT, FAARC

The first pulse oximeters relied on two measurements: photoplethysmography and spectrophotometry. Photoplethysmography is the use of light to determine the increase in size of a body part, in this case, the index finger is most commonly used. Via alterations in the absorption of infrared light, a graph of how the finger’s size varies over time can be constructed. This graph looks suspiciously like an arterial pressure tracing. Indeed, it resembles that tracing because the finger increases in size during systole.

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