Blood oxygen levels: what is the norm and how to measure it on Apple Watch?


Modern smartwatches are gradually acquiring more and more new functions. It is one thing to monitor a person’s activity, but quite another to assess his overall physical condition. Apple Watch Series 6 received an interesting and especially relevant function today – measuring the level of oxygen in the blood. This information allows you to find out how much oxygen from the lungs is captured by red blood cells for subsequent transport to other parts of the body.

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This is the first time that such an opportunity has been implemented in a smartwatch. Apple Watch uses internal LEDs and photodiodes to measure blood oxygen saturation non-invasively. This sensor works in tandem with Apple’s new Blood Oxygen app.

Blood oxygen sensor on Apple Watch

The data provided by the program cannot be the basis for the diagnosis and treatment, nevertheless, it is possible to assess your general physical condition.

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Why is it necessary to know the level of oxygen in the blood?

The oxygen level in the blood directly affects the functioning of the body’s cells. With a lack of oxygen, we begin to feel fatigue, dizziness, weakness and headache. Low oxygen levels are also accompanied by a decrease in pressure, tachycardia, impaired consciousness, fainting, and discoloration of the skin.

Today, information is relevant that a lack of oxygen in the blood, or hypoxemia, directly related to COVID-19… Coronavirus affects the lungs, severe tissue damage interferes with the transfer of oxygen from the air to the blood. Doctors use information about the oxygen level in the blood to assess the severity of the coronavirus disease and choose a treatment. This is an important indicator that determines whether a patient needs to be supplied with oxygen through a mask or whether ventilation is selected as an urgent measure.

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What is the normal blood oxygen level?

Oddly enough, there is no clear-cut norm. On a scale of 100%, it is believed that a healthy person should have blood oxygen levels above 95%. This level is sufficient for the lungs to efficiently transfer oxygen to the blood. A one-time decrease in the level should not be scary, but the constant shortage of the desired 95% is a reason to consult a doctor.

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If the indicator is lower, then everything is bad?

Apparently low rates are not always a reason to sound the alarm. If a person has other chronic lung disease, the oxygen saturation of the blood can be reduced by up to 88%. But the body is already accustomed to this and adapted. Low indicators may not be related to the state of health, there are measurement features of both smart watches (tattoos on the skin) and pulse oximeters: a cold finger, nail polish, dead batteries. If you feel good even with low blood oxygen levels, then there may be no clear reason to see a doctor.

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Does oxygen measurement work with Apple Watch in Russia (Ukraine, Kazakhstan)?

Unlike the ECG measurement function, which is not available to Russian users, the Blood Oxygen Measurement Tool works in Russia (also in Ukraine and Kazakhstan) on Apple Watch Series 6 and newer. A complete list of countries in which the option is available can be found below:

Does oxygen measurement work with Apple Watch in Russia (Ukraine, Kazakhstan)?

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How to check blood oxygen levels on Apple Watch?

Please note right away that this feature is currently only available for Apple Watch Series 6 and not for earlier models.

The sensor itself is located on the back of the watch. Beams sent out by LEDs illuminate the blood vessels in the wrist, and photodiodes measure the return of light. The principle of operation of the sensor is that, depending on the oxygen saturation of the blood, the absorption of red and infrared light occurs differently. That is why the study of reflected rays allows the watch to determine the color of blood. Bright red blood is saturated with oxygen, whereas dark red liquid contains less oxygen. Such blood does not receive enough oxygen from the lungs and cannot deliver it to organs and muscles.

To measure blood oxygen levels using Apple Watch:

1. Make sure the watch is snug against your wrist. In this case, the device should fit comfortably on the hand – you should not drag the strap.

2. Open the “Blood oxygen»And follow the prompts.

3. Stay still and make sure your wrist is level and the watch is facing upward.

4. Press the “Start” button and hold your hand still for 15 seconds. A timer will be displayed on the clock.

5. After the end of the reading, information about the oxygen level in the blood will be displayed on the watch screen. You can exit the data window by clicking the “Finish” button.

How to check blood oxygen levels on Apple Watch?

All blood oxygen readings will sync with the Health app.

For best performance, it is recommended to place your hand on a table or on your lap and make sure the watch is flush with your wrist. You can’t make a fist. As with any biometric sensor, there are a number of factors that can affect your results. For example, in people with tattoos, the readings may be incorrect – the ink will interfere with the penetration of light into the blood vessels. The amount of blood flowing under the skin may vary depending on body temperature, environment and varies from person to person, also affecting the sensor readings.

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How do I measure blood oxygen saturation on Apple Watch in the background?

You can set your Apple Watch to measure blood oxygen levels in the background. The watch will measure itself from time to time. This usually happens if the person does not move. Depending on the activity, the number of readings and the time between them will change. And since red light is used for measurements, this can be noticeable in the dark. If such light interferes, then background measurements can be turned off:

1. Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch.

2. Click on the “Blood oxygen” item, and then turn off the “In sleep mode“And”In theater mode“.

Please note that when activating the “Track sleep with Apple Watch»Blood oxygen measurements will only be taken during sleep.

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What medical device measures the oxygen level in the blood?

The oxygen level in the blood is measured by a medical device called a pulse oximeter. This is a simple and affordable device that looks like a large clothespin. It is put on the finger and after 10-20 seconds shows not only the oxygen level in the blood, but also the pulse. The principle of operation of the pulse oximeter sensor is similar to that found in the Apple Watch – measurements are performed non-invasively by sending and receiving light signals through the skin to the vessels.

pulse oximeter

Doctors recommend pulse oximeters for patients with chronic lung disease or heart failure to monitor their condition. But this device can also be used simply to monitor one’s health. However, Apple Watch and the Blood Oxygen program already seem to be a good alternative to the popular medical device.

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