A pulse oximeter is a device that is usually placed on a fingertip. It uses light beams to estimate the oxygen saturation of the blood and the pulse rate. Oxygen saturation gives information about the amount of oxygen carried in the blood. The pulse oximeter can estimate the amount of oxygen in the blood without having to draw a blood sample.
Most pulse oximeters show two or three numbers. The most important number, oxygen saturation level, is usually abbreviated SpO2, and is presented as a percentage. The pulse rate (similar to heart rate) is abbreviated PR, and sometimes there is a third number for strength of the signal. Oxygen saturation values are between 95% and 100% for most healthy individuals, but sometimes can be lower in people with lung problems. Oxygen saturation levels are also generally slightly lower for those living at higher altitudes.