Transmission pulse oximetry is used for monitoring in many clinical settings. However, for fetal monitoring during labor and in situations with poor peripheral perfusion, transmission pulse oximetry cannot be used. Therefore, we developed a reflectance pulse oximeter, which uses the relative intensity changes of the reflected red and infrared light (red/infrared ratio) to measure the arterial oxygen saturation. The performance of the reflectance pulse oximeter was studied in acute experiments in fetal lambs. By stepwise reduction of the inspired oxygen concentration of the ewe, measurements were done at the fetal scalp at various arterial oxygen saturation levels (17-82%). Reflectance pulse oximeter readings were averaged over periods of 15 s and compared with simultaneously taken fetal arterial blood samples. A calibration curve for the relationship between red/infrared ratio and arterial oxygen saturation was obtained from 53 measurements in four fetal lambs, by linear regression analysis [red/infrared = 4.088-(0.038.SaO2), r = 0.96]. In these experiments, the pulse oximeter showed a precision of 4.7% oxygen saturation around the calibration curve, with a 95% confidence interval of +/- 9.4%.
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