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Anesthesiology. 2005 Apr;102(4):715-9.

Effects of skin pigmentation on pulse oximeter accuracy at low saturation.

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Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, University of California at San Francisco, 513 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.



It is uncertain whether skin pigmentation affects pulse oximeter accuracy at low HbO2 saturation.


The accuracy of finger pulse oximeters during stable, plateau levels of arterial oxygen saturation (Sao2) between 60 and 100% were evaluated in 11 subjects with darkly pigmented skin and in 10 with light skin pigmentation. Oximeters tested were the Nellcor N-595 with the OxiMax-A probe (Nellcor Inc., Pleasanton, CA), the Novametrix 513 (Novametrix Inc., Wallingford, CT), and the Nonin Onyx (Nonin Inc., Plymouth, MN). Semisupine subjects breathed air-nitrogen-carbon dioxide mixtures through a mouthpiece. A computer used end-tidal oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations determined by mass spectrometry to estimate breath-by-breath Sao2, from which an operator adjusted inspired gas to rapidly achieve 2- to 3-min stable plateaus of desaturation. Comparisons of oxygen saturation measured by pulse oximetry (Spo2) with Sao2 (by Radiometer OSM3) were used in a multivariate model to determine the interrelation between saturation, skin pigmentation, and oximeter bias (Spo2 - Sao2).


At 60-70% Sao2, Spo2 (mean of three oximeters) overestimated Sao2 (bias +/- SD) by 3.56 +/- 2.45% (n = 29) in darkly pigmented subjects, compared with 0.37 +/- 3.20% (n = 58) in lightly pigmented subjects (P < 0.0001). The SD of bias was not greater with dark than light skin. The dark-light skin differences at 60-70% Sao2 were 2.35% (Nonin), 3.38% (Novametrix), and 4.30% (Nellcor). Skin pigment-related differences were significant with Nonin below 70% Sao2, with Novametrix below 90%, and with Nellcor at all ranges. Pigment-related bias increased approximately in proportion to desaturation.


The three tested pulse oximeters overestimated arterial oxygen saturation during hypoxia in dark-skinned individuals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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