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The cardiac pulse is the predominant feature of the pulse oximeter (plethysmographic) waveform. Less obvious is the effect of ventilation on the waveform. There have been efforts to measure the effect of ventilation on the waveform to determine respiratory rate, tidal volume, and blood volume. We measured the relative strength of the effect of ventilation on the reflective plethysmographic waveform at three different sites: the finger, ear, and forehead. The plethysmographic waveforms from 18 patients undergoing positive pressure ventilation during surgery and 10 patients spontaneously breathing during renal dialysis were collected. The respiratory signal was isolated from the waveform using spectral analysis. It was found that the respiratory signal in the pulse oximeter waveform was more than 10 times stronger in the region of the head when compared with the finger. This was true with both controlled positive pressure ventilation and spontaneous breathing. A significant correlation was demonstrated between the estimated blood loss from surgical procedures and the impact of ventilation on ear plethysmographic data (rs = 0.624, P = 0.006).