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Accuracy of pulse oximeters in estimating heart rate at rest and during exercise.
  1. Y Iyriboz,
  2. S Powers,
  3. J Morrow,
  4. D Ayers,
  5. G Landry
  1. Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.


    Pulse oximeters are being widely used for non-invasive, simultaneous assessment of haemoglobin oxygen saturation. They are reliable, accurate, relatively inexpensive and portable. Pulse oximeters are often used for estimating heart rate at rest and during exercise. However, at present the data available to validate their use as heart rate monitors are not sufficient. We evaluated the accuracy of two oximeters (Radiometer, ear and finger probe; Ohmeda 3700, ear probe) in monitoring heart rate during incremental exercise by comparing the pulse oximeters with simultaneous ECG readings. Data were collected on eight men (713 heart rate readings) during graded cycle ergometer and treadmill exercise to volitional fatigue. Analysis by linear regression revealed that general oximeter readings significantly correlated with those of ECG (r = 0.91, P less than 0.0001). However, comparison of heart rate at each level of work showed that oximeter readings significantly (P less than 0.05) under-estimated rates above 155 beats/min. These results indicate that the use of pulse oximeters as heart rate monitors during strenuous exercise is questionable. This inaccuracy may well originate from the instability of the probes, sweating, other artefacts during exercise, and measurement of different components in the cardiovascular cycle.

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