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Comput Methods Programs Biomed. 1989 Apr;28(4):257-69.

Skin photoplethysmography--a review.

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  • 1Postgraduate School of Control Engineering, University of Bradford, U.K.


The photoplethysmograph has been used for over 50 years but there are still misconceptions in how and what is the information obtained. A photoplethysmograph signal from any site on the skin can be separated into an oscillating (a.c.) and a steady-state (d.c.) component, their amplitudes dependent upon the structure and flow in the vascular bed. Many simple applications are available: pulse counters, using the a.c. component, skin colour and haemoglobin saturation meters, using the d.c. component. The d.c. component of the photoplethysmograph signal is a function of the blood flux beneath the device. A good emitter for use in a photoplethysmograph of skin blood flow is one in the frequency range 600-700 nm and the best signal for a.c. analysis is obtained from the finger pulp. The frequency range of the electronic circuitry should be from 0.01 to 15 Hz, then all the information in the signal can be extracted about the autonomic nervous system control of the cardiovascular system, particularly between 0.01 and 2 Hz. Comparative studies may be drawn between similar skin sites on a subject or between subjects if the afferent inputs to the brain stem are controlled or driven at a known frequency. These afferents, inputs, will modulate the efferents, outputs, which generate variations in the a.c. component of the detected photoplethysmograph signal.

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