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Using Pulse Oximeter with Cold Hands

Pulse oximeter usually runs slow, if at all, in a cold environment. Cold hands and fingers mean that the blood flow and circulation to your hand is reduced and may cause problem for the oximeter to detect a good pulse signal. When this happens, a pulse oximeter may take several minutes to return a reading and sometimes the reading may be inaccurate.

Under this situation, try to warm up the patient's hands prior to taking a measurement. One good way is to massage your hands by rubbing them gently against each other. Doing some hand exercise would also increase blood circulation. Try the following routine and it may help you.

  1. Relax your hands, shoulder and body.
  2. Focus on your hands and fingers.
  3. Massage your hands by rubbing them against each other for one minute.
  4. Gently and slowly curl up your fingers as if you are squeezing a tennis ball and hold for a couple of seconds.
  5. Relax and straighten your fingers slowly.
  6. Repeat curling your fingers for 15 to 20 times or as long as your feel comfortable doing it.
  7. Repeat step 3.

This exercise follows the principle of qigong and helps to increase the blood circulation to your hands and fingers. The first two steps, relaxation and focus, are key parts of the exercise. This exercise, if performed regularly, can increase your fingers' flexibility and help your arthritis.

Keep an eye on the SpO2 waveform which is available on some oximeters. The amplitude and the pattern of the wave are related to the pulse strength and rhythm. If the pulse is weak, the waveform would be flat and a good reading would be difficult. If the heart beat is irregular (arrhythmias), the pulse rate reading on a pulse oximeter can be erratic as it is normally based on the number of pulses within a few seconds..

In pulse oximeter and low perfusion, it lists several precautions that would help with the measurements.

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