Hyperoxia: At what level of SpO2 is a patient safe? A study in mechanically ventilated ICU patients

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Concerns have been expressed regarding a possible association between arterial hyperoxia and adverse outcomes in critically ill patients. Oxygen status is commonly monitored noninvasively by peripheral saturation monitoring (SpO2). However, the risk of hyperoxia above specific SpO2 levels in critically ill patients is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine a threshold value of SpO2 above which the prevalence of arterial hyperoxia distinctly increases.


This is a cross-sectional study in adult mechanically ventilated intensive care patients in a tertiary referral center. In 100 patients, we collected 200 arterial blood gases (ABG) and simultaneously registered SpO2 levels, as well as hemodynamic and ventilation parameters and vasoactive medication. Patients under therapeutic hypothermia were excluded.


The risk of arterial hyperoxia, defined as PaO2 > 100 mm Hg or > 125 mm Hg, was negligible when SpO2 was ≤ 95% or ≤ 96%, respectively. The majority (89% and 54%, respectively for PaO2 > 100 mm Hg and 125 mm Hg) of ICU patients with SpO2 of 100% had arterial hyperoxia. The relation between SpO2 and PaO2 was not clearly affected by hemodynamic or other clinical variables (pH, pCO2, body temperature, recent blood transfusion).


In critically ill patients, the prevalence of arterial hyperoxia increases when SpO2 is > 95%. Above this saturation level, supplemental oxygen should be administered with caution in patients potentially susceptible to adverse effects of hyperoxia.

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