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What is SpO2?
SpO2 stands for peripheral capillary oxygen saturation, an estimate of the amount of oxygen in the blood. More specifically, it is the percentage of oxygenated hemoglobin (hemoglobin containing oxygen) compared to the total amount of hemoglobin in the blood (oxygenated and non-oxygenated hemoglobin).
It is often considered to be the fifth vital sign, along with pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen in the blood to your organs. It is found inside red blood cells and gives them their red color. Once oxygen is in our organs, it acts as the fuel that allows our cells to work.
How is it measured?
SpO2 can be measured by pulse oximetry, an indirect, non-invasive method—meaning it does not involve the introduction of instruments into the body. It works by emitting and then absorbing a light wave reflecting the blood vessels, or capillaries, in the wrist.
- Oxygen-rich blood absorbs infrared light better than oxygen-poor blood.
- Oxygen-poor blood absorbs red light better than oxygen-rich blood. This is why venous blood is darker than arterial blood.
ScanWatch uses a multi-wavelength sensor called PPG (photoplethysmography) sensor that emits and measures red and infrared reflections on the blood vessels in the wrist. The algorithm then compares the reflection at each wavelength to compute the SpO2 value.
What is a normal SpO2 level?
A SpO2 value is represented by a percentage. If your ScanWatch says 98%, this means that each red blood cell is made up of 98% oxygenated and 2% non-oxygenated hemoglobin.
Good blood oxygenation is necessary to supply the energy your muscles need in order to function, which increases during a sports activity. If your SpO2 value is regularly below 90%, this could be a sign of poor blood oxygenation, also called hypoxemia.
SpO2 values generally vary between 90 and 100%:
- 95% to 100%: Normal.
- 90% to 94%: Below Average. This measurement detects that your blood oxygen level is below average but still normal. The results can vary based on a number of factors, including but not limited to your health profile (whether you are a smoker, if you have asthma, if you are very athletic or not, if you have tattoos, if you have known conditions such as hypotension, anemia, etc.), your environment (altitude, temperature), the way the measurement is done (standing/sitting position, wristband tightening, etc.). We suggest you check for best practices and train to improve your gesture.
- Below 90%: Low. The value can be a possible sign of hypoxemia. The results can vary based on a number of factors including your health profile, your environment, and the way the measurement is done. We suggest you check for best practices and repeat the measurement. In case results in this zone are associated with symptoms, contact your doctor or a health professional who will help you make a diagnosis and take preventive actions. Symptoms include being short of breath after exertion, coughing, fast or slow heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating.
Each SpO2 measurement can easily be found in the Health Mate app and can be easily shared as a PDF.