Pulse oximetry readings?

Have been experiencing a number of worrying symptoms my GPS have been dismissing. Shortness of breath, extreme faitugue and weakness, chest tightness, worsening, mental confusion and a persistent cough.

Bought a pulse oximetry reader but not sure how to read the measurements properly. Checked on this forum and what I read there, about low oxygen levels, has alarmed me.

Just taken my oxygen level, and the reading is 98/80. What I read here was that oxygen levels should be over 92. As the first sum is 98 that seems okay, then? But not sure what the second reading indicates as it IS below 92? Is there cause to be alarmed? Possible heart failure?

38 Replies

  • Hi Lydia, sorry to hear you haven't been feeling too good. A pulse oximetry gives 2 readings, your pulse and your oxygen saturation level. The order of the readings varies according to oximeter but it will tell you which is which on the oximeter. On mine, the oxygen saturation reading has '%SpO2' next to it and the pulse rate has 'RPbpm' next to it. I would guess from the readings you gave that 98 is your oxygen saturation level and 80 is your pulse rate. If this is the case then both readings seem fine and you can stop worrying about heart failure. However, the symptoms you describe sound like you do have a lung condition which your GP should be treating seriously. If I were you, I would go back to your GP and tell them that you know that your symptoms are indicative of a lung condition and request a referral to see a consultant. Most GPs know very little about lung conditions so don't let them fob you off.

    Best Wishes,


  • Thank you Helen for this information. These evidently ARE very serious symptoms the doctors have been dismissing that do need investigating. So I will persist with my GPS to get them to take me seriously and provide those tests that will help to establish what it is I am suffering from.. thanks again..

  • wish you well with your gp in getting them to take you seriously,I know only too well what this is like as have had the same for the last 5 years.

  • Yes, indeed, dolphin33. Getting the GPS to take your symptoms seriously is going to be difficult. I did visit the A&E unit this morning and the duty officer did say he was going to write to my practice to request tests regarding these symptoms, but you're right, seeing is believing .I'll take it a step at a time...

  • seeing is believing?i have had clearly visible symptoms-changes to m y facial bones/shape yet they dismiss it all-even when consultants have confirmed it.enlargement of features/swelling and joint deformity is not "in my head".

    would they not do the tests at the hospital?

  • Sorry. Was referring to my own circumstances and how to persuade the doctors to take this seriously. I believe entirely what you are saying and wish you luck in trying to get medical attention for your condition...

  • Lydia, what has happened that has made you feel that you needed to go to A & E over Christmas? a SATS of 98% is very good, this does not mean that you do not have a lung condition, but as advised in an earlier post your best move now is to get your GP to refer you to your best local Respiratory Consultant who will do all the necessary tests /scans/ etc that will help you. But has something happened that makes you feel that your condition is an emergency? Its a long process unfortunately getting a referral to see a respiratory consultant, but its a process that you just have to go through to get the correct treatment as we have all found out.

    Your readings on your oximeter are very normal and do not suggest any lung problems...but lots of people with quite advanced COPD or other respiratory conditions have good SATS , which mostly just let you know how much oxygen you have in your blood and what your pulse rate is. IF your SATS fall VERY low =ie into the 80's then you need to get emergency help

    Unless you have another problem that is causing you to think you need emergency help

    Love Sohara

  • I have quite a few physical symptoms that have been dismissed by my gps and at A&E as being 'nothing to worry about'. Evidently, these symptoms are suggestive of something seriously going wrong internally. So they really need for investigating which the doctors have been reluctant to agree to. I am aware that there are procedures you can take, with the local gp surgery, to request some tests, going all the way to the ombudsman, if not satisfied with their answers. That looks like I will have to follow that route...

  • i took my complaint against gp to ombudsman but they dismissed it claiming the dr had not done anything wrong despite the way he treated me and defamed me,they think they are so clever because they lie thru their back teeth and twist things to protect their own backs and not one organisation believed anything i said,its as tho i wasted hours of my time writing letters and concocting things for the fun of it,good luck if you go down that route

  • Thanks. I'll give it ago.

  • You did mention some symptoms earlier in your post, but what are the physical symptoms that you feel signify something seriously wrong?

    We do know our own bodies and we all read of doctors who do not take enough notice of patients .

    Do you smoke? or did you?

    Some of your symptoms could be heart related not just respiratory .

    When you say 'shortness of breath' what do you mean there? can you walk OK for half an hour say? can you go up a flight of stairs?

    Do you work? and could your tiredness be linked to your age or working?

    Do you bring up a lot of mucus off your lungs when you cough?

    These are just questions addressing your complaints, Its easy sometimes to go online and worry that we are worse than we believe we are.

    Can you see a different GP at your surgery?

  • Let's just say these symptoms, whatever they are, have been present for some time now, ignored by the doctors. Somehow I have to get them to take them seriously. A tall order..

  • i have had "my symptoms"for close on 5 years and 5 years of gp's not accepting what ive told them and then having gp make assumptions -my gp refused to do any investigations into abdominal symptoms based on having an endoscopy 2 years before-despite worsening symptoms -which when another gp did investigate revealed several conditions-no apology from 1st gp.since then noone has taken me seriously,the pelvic pain i have had has never been taken seriously because 1st gp said "!i am not having anything to do with your stomach"-if that is not a breach of their guidelines what is?i havbe been accused of getting confused over a consultants refusal to proceed with a consultation as he hadnt received the referral letter from the gp which is what exactly i told the gp and she recorded there is some confusion over referral letter and that i thought it unacceptable to proceed without it when it was the consultants decision.in the last year-pelvic pain still dismissed,headpain and swelling not taken seriously,nor abdominal weight gain /loss elsewhere.too much to mention-

  • Well, it does sound as if you are in desperate need of attention there. Sort of similar here too. I do hope someone takes you seriously soon. The NHS. They have priorities, and if you don't match them, your needs get neglected. Sad facts of life...

  • Sure. It will be interested to know what is going to happen next. Quite worrying, of course..

  • I have same issue...abdominal weight gain...be very interested to know what their answer was.Cheers from downunder.

  • Hi Lydia

    so far they have assumed its an age thing-that women gain fat around midriff but not ever accepted that I dont eat -have no appetite-havent eaten cakes biscuits snacks puddings since 2007 and walk my dogs twice a day this then changes to being menopausal or diet related,IBS.

    i do not know of anyone-friends in my age group or any women i see out and about who have huge abdomens

    they have never accepted that weight gain is abdominal and not diet related infact dismissed everything i have told them and what consultants have confirmed.

    on saying this woke as usual to abdo pressure,pelvic pain and heaviness,swollen face headpain etc.

    i have written notes to the gp's to file in my notes saying I do not have IBS as assumed and confirmed by consultants,that i do not have health anxiety or mental health issues,m y notes contain false records and are the gp's personal not professional opinion but assumptions .they have clearly not acknowledged any of this and persist in making me out to be the one at fault.

    what have they said to you as a possible cause?do you get the same from you gp's there?

  • I've had a similar experience with doctors with them suggesting this is all related to anxietyproblems. Clearly,just like yourself, these are very serioussymptoms that need investigating. So will just have to push on and see if I can persuade the gp to allow me those tests. Fun and games these doctors have at our expense, huh...?

  • hi Lydia

    its their answer for everything.its not all about tests/scans-they need to recognise the symptoms-mine are clearly visible .my 1st gp kept saying "i dont know what it is"-yet on the other extreme "gp's have the medical experience and knowledge from years of training",so why do they say they dont know what things are and another gp make a diagnosis yet still get dismissed

  • My symptoms just get dismissed as those connected to chronic stress and anxiety. When I complain that, like your situation, there are quite a few symptoms here that are suggestive of other conditions, the doctors insist it is something connected to psychological problems. The possibility of, even though i have seen various specialists on other matters where other conditions have been found, so evidently need investigating.

    I intend to use a helpline to try and get some answers to the questions related to these symptoms. If I can get some real answers to these i might be that much better able to get the GPS to respond to that with a visit to a specialist.

  • good luck.hope you get some answers.i was told to make sure i tell the gp everything and the gp will address them.that is what ive been doing for the last 4-5 years and the gp hasnt accepted anything i told him,hardly psychological when symptoms are persistent not coming and going.they dont like being told anything-ie suggestion to what things may be when they claim to "have no clue"

  • It's mostly do with costs. The NHS being starved of cash and having to ration their services to what the doctors believe are the more worthier patients. If you happen to come into a category deemed to be dispensable, it is going to be doubly difficult to get them to take your symptoms seriously. Those are the sad facts of life...

  • its all wrong.patients health should be a priority and its no excuse for gp's to treat patients the way they do.it doesnt give them the right to lie outright and make false accusations/assumptions.its our bodies and no dr can feel the pain etc we have so have no right to dismiss things

  • Yes. It is wrong but you can't fight the system. You can only use all the options open to you to explore how to persuade a doctor to take you seriously on these matters. Whether they do or not, given their guidelines, is a very different matter...

  • yes but one that never is taken seriously.my gp turned from being a good understanding gp listening to me and investigating to one who for whatever reason stopped accepting what i told him and gave no support.never apologised when was proven wrong

  • I sympathise with you and hope you are able to get the attention you need on these matters..

  • Here is the WHO training manual for pulse oximetry:-


    see page 9

  • Thanks, PMRPete. I'll check this link out and ring a helpline for advise on this... great.

  • If it's like mine the other number is your heart rate ,numbers you state seem good ,,,so could thyroid problem

  • Okay. I'll look into that. Thanks.

  • Lydia, if your doctor is reluctant to refer you to a specialist, then request a chest x-Ray. These are quick and cheap to carry out so he/she may be more receptive to this. The x-Ray won't show what is wrong but if you have a lung problem, it will indicate that something is wrong. This will then mean that a referral is necessary. My own GP has been very supportive, but her first action was to send me for a chest x-Ray, followed by a consultant referral.

    Good Luck,


  • Good idea. Will consider that. Do believe this might be something connected to my heart, rather than my lungs. Maybe heart failure? All the symptoms are there. Is there a group on this website for this disease?

  • Lydia, there probably is a group for the heart - check in the drop down menu of groups - but although I'm not a medical professional, everything you describe (except for the mental confusion) sounds like lungs rather than heart to me. Coughing and fatigue are key indicators of a lung condition. Try taking your O2 reading, doing some moderate activity and taking your reading again. In most cases of a lung problem, the O2 reading will be lower after exercise. This is known as desaturation and indicates a lung problem. What makes you think it could be your heart?


  • There are other physical symptoms too. I'm sleeping for most of the day, very drowsy, have difficulty thinking, short term memory lost, lost of appetite, less activity, intense pressure in my head, occasional pain in my left arm, shoulder and occasional bruises too. That's why I am thinking heart failure.. are these also symptoms of a lung condition or pulmonary hypertension?

    Have been under a lot of chronic stress for decades and it has prematurely aged me, stress hormones being released. Have a heart score age of about 68, even though I am only 56. Very worrying signs that the doctors keep dismissing.

    Too the finger pulse readings. 97/85 pre exercising. 97/75 after the very moderate exercise. Does this indicate anything? Really grateful for all the advice you are giving me here...

  • Lydia, I can see why you are worried and there are links between heart and lung disease. You really do need some expert advice on this. How about making a list for your GP of all your symptoms, asking them to look at it and then tell them the conditions you are worried about. They really do need to take this seriously. The readings you give above don't make much sense as your pulse rate shouldn't go down after exercise. Oximeters can give some strange readings, so it's always best to take it a few times.

    Good luck with your GP.


  • Thanks, Helen. I shall be taking this advice and speaking directly to my GP. As for those readings. Yeah. I'll try that a few more times to see what the average readings are. Should give a more accurate reading then..

  • Hi, i have had COPD and use an oxymeter.

    The local pulmonary team recommend a blood sats reading of between 88 to 91 is acceptable. I regularly hit 95. The pulse/heart beat reading range is quite large 60 to 100.

    It's easy to find imaginary illness when home testing. If you keep within these limits and use the mediation you're prescribed I'd say you are doing well.

    Why not ask for a referral to the local Pulmonary Team at your local hospital.

    If you can, also get a referral for Pulmonary Rehab. This will almost certainly give you a big lift, healthwise. Good Luck.

  • Again thanks for this bit of advice. I've taken it to heart and will be checking up on these details. It's good to be informed..

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