Weird sats!

Weird sats!

My normal sats are between 87 and 94 and can drop very low during activity. I have recently become aware that when I feel unwell or breathless whilst resting without oxygen, my sats can be as high as 99! The last time this happened I ended up in hospital for 8 days with an exaserbation. But no one could explain the high sats readings. I end up on IV antibiotics nebuliser etc. and was discharged with my normal sats around 92 and feeling loads better. is there any one in this amazing community who has experienced anything like this or has an idea of the cause.

22 Replies

  • It had been a sore point with me that after his initial sats blood test and supply of oxygen my husband had not been checked for 9 months. A new nurse came this week and the oxymeter showed 98 which she said was too high so she did the ear blood test which showed an oxygen reading of 16 when it should be no more than 13. So she reduced his oxygen to 1.5. We gather it is not all about the oxygen levels but the balance with the carbon dioxide and other blood factors.

  • Good point about the CO2. Too much can cause Type 2 Respiratory Failure, so oxygen therapy is therefore important to get it right

  • Thanks Puffthemagicdragon, I believe when my arterial gasses were done they were within the parameters set for me. I have often worried about carbon dioxide versus oxygen. I am prescribed 17/24 but usually only use when in bed and on exertion when I can get very breathless.

  • I think that taking arterial gasses is the best way to make sure you are getting the correct oxygen. I prefer it. I'm on 1/2 litre 15/24, mainly at night, but keep it on longer if I feel like it as long as my sats don't go too high, although sometimes they go to 96% without. My oxygen people say this is ok though.

  • Hello Granny of six,

    You are right, sats are weird until you understand what's happening. I have had COPD for about 10 years and learnt by experience what is happening.

    When you exert yourself your body demands more oxygen so you pant, and your heart pumps harder to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your body - quite normal for a fit person running or exercising.

    When you have lung problems it is the same except your lungs cannot instantly respond to the increase demand for oxygen and your sats fall causing your body to respond by even quicker panting and an increased heart rate.

    This causes you to stop exertion and rest allowing you to recover. Now resting and still panting your sats can now recover and overshoots above normal (95%). How quickly this happens and what overshoot occurs depends on your lung condition and any medication you take.

    There is another aspect that can give weird sats readings, being anxious and panic attacks. These can cause panting even when your sats are normal and this will cause elevated sats readings. Controlled breathing is the normal way to control these attacks.

    I hope this helps, but remember sats are only a guide not definitive,


  • The answer to the problem is in your post, actually. It's all to do with proper breathing control. Panting is the worse way to get your breath pant at the top end of your chest. You need to get your diaphragm back involved and the only way to do that is to breath in through your nose and gently blow out through pursed lips, making the exhale a little longer all the time. This then clears the old oxygen and carbon dioxide out of the lungs and allows plenty of space for new air. Similarly, when resting in bed, we tend to slowly decrease full body breathing and breath from around our neck. These muscles are small but use up an amazing amount of therefore you Sats are all over the place. It also explains why sometimes, when we get out of bed and make that all important dash to the loo, we end up breathless....and so what do we do....we go back to bed and rest and the cycle continues.

  • Very good. Thank you!

  • Grannyof6, I'm surprised no one explained why you were getting high readings on your oxygen meter. Great gadgets, but they cannot differentiate between oxygen in the blood and carbon dioxide in the blood, and that's probably why you had high readings when you were struggling to breath.

  • Not sure that is correct, it does NOT measure CO2 in blood according to all I have seen -

    How does pulse oximetry work?

    Oxygen in the air is breathed into the lungs. The oxygen then passes into the blood where the majority of the oxygen attaches to hemoglobin (a protein located inside the red blood cell) for transport in the bloodstream. The oxygenated blood circulates to the tissues.

    Pulse oximetry technology utilizes the light absorptive characteristics of hemoglobin and the pulsating nature of blood flow in the arteries to aid in determining the oxygenation status in the body. First, there is a color difference between arterial hemoglobin saturated with oxygen, which is bright red, and venous hemoglobin without oxygen, which is darker.

    Second, with each pulsation or heartbeat there is a slight increase in the volume of blood flowing through the arteries. Because of the increase of blood volume, albeit small, there is an associated increase in oxygen-rich hemoglobin. This represents the maximum amount of oxygen-rich hemoglobin pulsating through the blood vessels.

    Pulse oximetry using finger probe

    Click Image to Enlarge

    A clip-like device called a probe is placed on a body part, such as a finger or ear lobe, to measure the blood that is still carrying or is saturated with oxygen. The probe houses a light source, a light detector, and a microprocessor, which compares and calculates the differences in the oxygen-rich versus oxygen-poor hemoglobin. One side of the probe has a light source with two different types of light, infrared and red, which are transmitted through the finger to the light detector side of the probe. The oxygen-rich hemoglobin absorbs more of the infrared light and the hemoglobin without oxygen absorbs more of the red light. The microprocessor calculates the differences and converts the information to a digital readout. This information helps the doctor assess the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood and evaluate the need for supplemental oxygen.

  • I never said it did measure co2, AlanF... I said it didn't differential between oxygen and carbon dioxide ... I got my information from the senior nurse on the respiratory ward; she also told me anaemia was another reason for incorrect SATs readings. This was all relayed to me while I was laid up in hospital, after she'd caught me outside having a fly fag. She then demonstrated it while I was on the ward, took my SATS, then got me to go outside (wheelchair this time), and a minute after I'd taken a draw, my readings before lighting up were sitting on 90, and now sat at 98! A false positive reading. As you say, blood gas tests are the only way to correctly detect co2.

  • Thank you Themrs, Pete762 and Pixiedixie for your replies, all you have said makes so much sense. I know I can get anxious and do sometimes have to control myself. I have emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis as the main reasons for COPD. It makes so much sense to know as much as we can about our lungs, for me the more I'm told the less I worry! Why can't they explain all this in hospital.


  • I had exactly the same problem and ended up in hospital for 2 weeks one of which was in ICU and I am now on oxy 24/7.

  • Thank you everyone, I feel loads more confident now as Puffthemagicdragon says we should trust ourselves and use O2 when we believe it's necessary within the prescribed amounts. I hadn't realised that carbon dioxide could be the cause of high readings., another piece of information under my belt. I can't understand why some Drs and nurses skirt around problems and questions we may have, knowledge and understanding is far more comfortable than the fear created of not understanding correctly.


  • Thank you everyone, I feel loads more confident now as Puffthemagicdragon says we should trust ourselves and use O2 when we believe it's necessary within the prescribed amounts. I hadn't realised that carbon dioxide could be the cause of high readings., another piece of information under my belt. I can't understand why some Drs and nurses skirt around problems and questions we may have, knowledge and understanding is far more comfortable than the fear created of not understanding correctly.


  • I have similar problems I recover quickly once resting but drop quickly. When I was fighting with my GP's for tests on my breathing. They would wait to hear what I had to say after being sat down for a few mins and put the same oxymeter I have on my finger it was between 92/95 at rest and all I got was "it is fine look" Even though I tell them it is not when I am sitting down I have a problem they dismissed it and blamed it all on my heart conditions. Now they have been proven wrong that I do have a lung problem that will not improve all I get now is "live with it"

    If I walk anywhere I seem to plod on for a bit and then I am suddenly empty and have to take deep breaths to feel normal again. I can walk to my car ok and once I am seated I have to get my breath back before I can drive.

    I wish you well and when you find out why it does not go to plan you can tell us all.

    Be Well

  • Same here, the walk to my car fine but then it takes several minutes to get my breath back and be able to start the car. Sort of delayed reaction.

  • Exactly that, but people look at you a bit strange when you get to the counter and then say hang on while I get my breath back!

  • how it is explained to me. when your o2 is high and your pulse is high 90 is exercise, 100 is marathon so body demands more o2. but if getting this at rest body needs less o2 so the co can come out. i have to watch mine closely because mine can change even at rest. when your body can not get enough o2 you will feel it needs more. depending on your level ask you lung dr were you o2 should be. with me she would like it around 89-92. i know if it is reading above 95 i need to try and lower it. this just shows that your co levels maybe elevated. only a blood test shows if it is. mine gets elevated but not enough to be hospitalized so far. when in pt and most dr and parimedics they are taught the higher the o2 the better. this depends on which copd you have and how your body reacts. i have it my stats on o2 should be low. if to high i can pass out and become unresponsive that is how i found out. at first sounded very scary to me but i have learned how to moniter were my co levels dont put me in the hospital. i dont think there is anyway of truly stopping it all together. i have 20% lung cap. can inhale great exhale is were i go. look up difference in the 2 ways of copd they are the oppisite. one you can not take in enough the other you can not exhale enough. hope this helps and so glad i found others who do have this problem. been searching for that.

  • You said something very interesting, I find it so much easier to exhale than inhale and this again is another question that has not been answered for me where can I find more info on this?

  • Sorry it's taken so long to reply, I hadn't seen that you had written again. Thank you it is really good to find someone who understands these symptoms it is almost impossible to research them and even the pulmonary nurses can't ive answers. I will certInly let you know if I find any more info. Best wishes Tinamg


  • try to talk to your doctor. copd has 2 part: 1 breathing in o2 chonic broncatis 2 breathing out o2 emphsimia sorry for the spelling i cannot get my spell check to work. it is hard to find the answers on co levels i am not sure why. i just keep looking for sites to see if they have it. you do have both but are more prone to exhaling. your body feels the same it need o2. when i am in the upper 90 that is not good but when i am in lower 90 i feel better. my lungs have more time to get the co out. you would think the pt for copd would explain this. but it usuallly aplies to a few people. i hope i answered as much as i can. this is what i know so far i am just getting on with looking it up more.

    best of luck grannyof 8

  • Thank you for your reply tinamg. Like you I feel quite breathless and unwell when my sats are in the high 90s and so much better when they are in the low 90s. I know I have emphysema and fibrotic changes but not sure about chronic bronchitis. I will continue to look up info and if I find anything more will let you know.

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