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Sex-linked differences in pulse oxymetry
  1. A Ricart1,3,
  2. T Pages2,
  3. G Viscor2,3,
  4. C Leal3,
  5. J L Ventura1
  1. 1 Servei de Medicina Intensiva, Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge, Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2 Departament de Fisiologia, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  3. 3 Institut d’Estudis de Medicina de Muntanya, Barcelona, Spain
  1. Dr A Ricart, Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge, Servei de Medicina Intensiva, Barcelona, Spain; 8936ard{at}


The difference between genders has generated increasing interest in recent years. It is well known that women and men show differences in their respiratory system: different red blood cell counts, haemoglobin and 2,3-diphosphoglycerate plasma concentrations. Recently, further differences have been found in the ventilatory response to hypoxia and exercise and the evolution of some respiratory illnesses. In this study it was found that during rest at sea level, the haemoglobin oxygen saturation, as measured by pulse oxymetry, is slightly higher in women than in men (98.6 (SD 1.1)% versus 97.9 (SD 0.9)%; p = 0.001). These findings are consistent with other studies, which found gender differences in the transcutaneous or tissue PaO2. The difference in oxygen saturation is not related to differences in ventilation. The disparity is modest and does not seem to produce great differences in the oxygen content of arterial blood, but combined with the different affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen or different metabolic rate, may play a role in the course of elite competition sports, high altitude ascents or the evaluation of critically ill patients.

Further studies are needed to establish the degree, extent and clinical importance of these differences in the saturation of haemoglobin.

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  • Competing interests: None.