How do we know when blood oxygen is too low? Blood oxygen levels should ideally be maintained within a specific range. That’s because oxygen-infused blood keeps everything from your brain functioning to your fingers flowing smoothly. If your blood oxygen level is too low and the levels are outside of the ideal range, this is a serious indicator that your lungs are not loading the right amount of oxygen with blood cells, which which affects your heart’s ability to circulate oxygenated blood for the rest of your life. body. If the body isn’t getting the right amount of oxygen to your heart, it can have a serious impact on your health, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (opens in a new tab).
With the rise of the best fitness trackers that measure the amount of oxygen carried by blood cells in your system, it has become easier than ever to keep tabs on whether your blood oxygen is getting too low. Fitness trackers that offer this extra feature can help you manage the right blood oxygen percentage for your body and even detect possible health issues. For example, a tracker can alert you to prevent oxygen saturation levels from dropping during extreme exercise conditions, such as high altitude mountain hiking. For more information on fitness trackers, read our How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers? (opens in a new tab) guide.
Here, we look at the science surrounding blood oxygen levels, including how to measure them, what normal oxygen levels should be, and how to tell if your blood oxygen is too low.
What are the oxygen levels in the blood?
Simply put, your blood oxygen level is the measurement of how much oxygen your blood cells are carrying. Maintaining the proper balance of oxygen-rich blood is vital to your health.
Dr. Mark Bratby, Deputy Medical Director at Veincentre (opens in a new tab)told LiveScience, “Our bodies are fueled by glucose and oxygen, which are consumed to create energy to drive cellular function, along with waste water and carbon dioxide. We breathe oxygen. oxygen from the atmosphere, and this is taken up in the lungs by the hemoglobin in the red blood cells as oxyhemoglobin which is then transported around the body and the oxygen is then released into the tissues where it is needed. ”
Bratby is a Consultant in Interventional Radiology and was appointed Medical Director of Veincentre in November 2021. He trained at Cambridge University and Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School (Graduated 1998) and received a Distinction in medicine. Bratby previously worked for 21 years in the NHS, including 11 years as a consultant interventional radiologist at Oxford University Hospital.
Dr Bratby continued: “The oxyhemoglobin molecule then changes structure to deoxyhemoglobin, ready to accept oxygen from the lungs. Oxyhemoglobin gives blood its bright red color, deoxyhemoglobin gives blood a blue-purple color.”
Here’s a fascinating fact about blood oxygen levels: the transport of oxygen to the cells of the body is one of the most critical functions of the cardiovascular system and it is in the microcirculation that the final local determinants of oxygen supply, oxygen demand and their regulation are decided, according to a microcirculation society (opens in a new tab) study.
How to measure the oxygen level in the blood?
You might be wondering why do I need to monitor my blood oxygen levels? Well, because your blood oxygen levels aren’t routinely checked by your doctor — unless you’re showing signs of a health problem, like difficulty breathing or chest pain — it’s essential that you make a conscious effort to track your self-health to monitor any changing patterns in your body. By using a fitness tracker to measure these levels, you in turn provide more data to clinicians with potential for earlier diagnosis and treatment advice, according to research in the journal Molecular Diversity Preservation International. (opens in a new tab) on the importance of wearable health devices.
Blood oxygen levels can be measured in a variety of ways, ranging from those that provide the most accurate results to those that are less accurate than other forms.
“The most accurate measurement of blood oxygen requires a blood sample tested in a blood gas analysis machine (opens in a new tab) to measure the partial pressure of dissolved oxygen in the blood,” Dr. Bratby said. “However, this test is usually only done on an ill patient in hospital if there are other concerns about the amount of oxygen in the circulation and abnormal results from non-invasive blood oxygen measurements.” In this situation, medical personnel would like to know the oxygen levels in the arteries, which requires a blood draw .
However, if the idea of a blood test puts you off, there are other options. The most common method used to measure blood oxygen levels is with a non-invasive pulse oximeter that you can use yourself. An oximeter is a device that you attach to your finger. But be sure to remove any nail polish and jewelry before taking your measurement, as these external factors can cause the pulse ox reading to be lower than normal.
“This method relies on shining two different wavelengths (one red, the other infrared) of light through a translucent part of the patient’s body, usually the tip of a finger or the lobe of the eye. the ear. Absorption of light at these wavelengths differs between oxygen-laden and lacking blood. The monitor’s processor is then able to calculate oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation measures the percentage of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin,” Dr. Bratby explained. (opens in a new tab) The devices are widely available online and can also be purchased at many pharmacies.
Many smartphones and fitness trackers now include an additional blood oxygen level feature that gives consumers better insight into their overall health. However, a report from the Center for Evidence-based Medicine (opens in a new tab)cautioned that they were not clinically accurate compared to other forms of measurement.
How do we know when blood oxygen is too low?
Understanding what a normal blood oxygen level reading is for you is determined by many factors, including your age, whether you are fit and healthy, and any underlying illnesses you may have . If you tick all the right boxes for fitness and age, a normal reading is considered between 95% and 100%, according to the Mayo Clinic. (opens in a new tab).
Dr Bratby continued: “Oxygen saturation only begins to drop when the partial pressure of oxygen in the blood falls to a significantly low level. The partial pressure of oxygen is normally 80-100 mmHg with saturation in oxygen in the range of 95 to 100%. If the oxygen saturation drops to 90%, that would correspond to a partial pressure of oxygen of 60 mmHg, says Dr. Bratby. “If the oxygen saturation level falls below 90%, this level is considered low and called hypoxemia (low oxygen levels). Oxygen saturation levels below 80% can compromise organ function and should be treated urgently.”
According to a report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a number of factors contribute to maintaining oxygen supply to the body. (opens in a new tab). These include having enough oxygen in the air you breathe, with the lungs being able to inhale oxygen-carrying air and blood flow being able to circulate oxygen-containing blood throughout your body.
“Low oxygen saturations can occur at high altitudes (opens in a new tab), with lung or heart problems, or due to severe generalized illness. Common causes include anemia, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, congenital heart defects, and drugs that can depress respiration (i.e. morphine-like compounds ),” says Dr. Bratby.
On the other hand, a reading that is too high can lead to oxygen toxicity. This is lung damage resulting from excessive exposure to additional oxygen pressures. This can cause coughing and breathing problems.
Regardless of your blood oxygen level, whether you want to increase levels or simply track your blood oxygen in the future, it is always important to consult your doctor if you notice any changes in your condition.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice.