Arterial versus capillary blood gases: a meta-analysis

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2007 Mar 15;155(3):268-79. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2006.07.002. Epub 2006 Aug 17.


A meta-analysis determined whether capillary blood gases accurately reflect arterial blood samples. A mixed effects model was used on 29 relevant studies obtained from a PubMed/Medline search. From 664 and 222 paired samples obtained from the earlobe and fingertip, respectively, earlobe compared to fingertip sampling shows that the standard deviation of the difference is about 2.5x less (or the precision is 2.5x better) in resembling arterial PO(2) over a wide range of arterial PO(2)'s (21-155 mm Hg ). The lower the arterial PO(2), the more accurate it is when predicting arterial PO(2) from any capillary sample (p<0.05). However, while earlobe sampling predicts arterial PO(2) (adjusted r(2)=0.88, mean bias=3.8 mm Hg compared to arterial), fingertip sampling does not (adjusted r(2)=0.48, mean bias=11.5 mm Hg compared to arterial). Earlobe sampling is slightly more accurate compared to fingertip sampling in resembling arterial PCO(2) (arterial versus earlobe, adjusted r(2)=0.94, mean bias=1.9 mm Hg ; arterial versus fingertip, adjusted r(2)=0.95, mean bias=2.2 mm Hg compared to arterial) but both sites can closely reflect arterial PCO(2) (880 total paired samples, range 10-114 mm Hg ). No real difference between sampling from the earlobe or fingertip were found for pH as both sites accurately reflect arterial pH over a wide range of pH (587 total paired samples, range 6.77-7.74, adjusted r(2)=0.90-0.94, mean bias=0.02). In conclusion, sampling blood from the fingertip or earlobe (preferably) accurately reflects arterial PCO(2) and pH over a wide range of values. Sampling blood, too, from earlobe (but never the fingertip) may be appropriate as a replacement for arterial PO(2), unless precision is required as the residual standard error is 6 mm Hg when predicting arterial PO(2) from an earlobe capillary sample.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arteries / chemistry*
  • Blood Gas Analysis*
  • Blood Specimen Collection / standards
  • Capillaries / chemistry*
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Linear Models
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxyhemoglobins / analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Venules / chemistry


  • Oxyhemoglobins
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen