Use of pulse oximetry to recognize severity of airflow obstruction in obstructive airway disease: correlation with pulsus paradoxus

Chest. 1999 Feb;115(2):475-81. doi: 10.1378/chest.115.2.475.


Study objectives: The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to confirm the observation that pulse oximetry tracing correlates with pulsus paradoxus, and is therefore a measure of the severity of air trapping in obstructive airway disease.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: The ICU in a tertiary care academic hospital.

Patients: Twenty-six patients consecutively admitted to the ICU with obstructive airway disease, either asthma or COPD.

Measurements and results: Forty-six percent of the study patients required mechanical ventilation, and 69% had an elevated pulsus paradoxus. We defined the altered pulse oximetry baseline tracing as the respiratory waveform variation (RWV). The RWV was measured in numerical form as the change in millimeters from the baseline. Pulsus paradoxus was significantly correlated with the RWV of the pulse oximetry tracing (p < 0.0001). An analysis of the respiratory variations in the pulse oximetry waveforms in obstructive lung disease patients reflects the presence and degree of auto-positive end-expiratory pressure (auto-PEEP; p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: We describe the characteristic alterations in the pulse oximetry tracings that occur in the presence of pulsus paradoxus and auto-PEEP. Since pulse oximetry is available universally in ICUs and emergency departments, it may be a useful noninvasive means of continually assessing pulsus paradoxus and air trapping severity in obstructive airway disease patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Asthma / therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Oximetry*
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Mechanics*