In this article, I examine the source of the photoplethysmograph (PPG), as well as methods of investigation, with an emphasize on amplitude, rhythm, and pulse analysis. The PPG waveform was first described in the 1930s. Although considered an interesting ancillary monitor, the "pulse waveform" never underwent intensive investigation. Its importance in clinical medicine was greatly increased with the introduction of the pulse oximeter into routine clinical care in the 1980s. Its waveform is now commonly displayed in the clinical setting. Active research efforts are beginning to demonstrate a utility beyond oxygen saturation and heart rate determination. Future trends are being heavily influenced by modern digital signal processing, which is allowing a re-examination of this ubiquitous waveform. Key to unlocking the potential of this waveform is an unfettered access to the raw signal, combined with standardization of its presentation, and methods of analysis. In the long run, we need to learn how to consistently quantify the characteristics of the PPG in such a way as to allow the results from research efforts be translated into clinically useful devices.
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