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A photoplethysmogram (PPG) is an optically obtained plethysmogram, a volumetric measurement of an organ. A PPG is often obtained by using a pulse oximeter which illuminates the skin and measures changes in light absorption.[1] A conventional pulse oximeter monitors the perfusion of blood to the dermis and subcutaneous tissue of the skin.

Medical diagnostics
Representative PPG taken from an ear pulse oximeter. Variation in amplitude are from Respiratory Induced Variation.

With each cardiac cycle the heart pumps blood to the periphery. Even though this pressure pulse is somewhat damped by the time it reaches the skin, it is enough to distend the arteries and arterioles in the subcutaneous tissue. If the pulse oximeter is attached without compressing the skin, a pressure pulse can also be seen from the venous plexus, as a small secondary peak.

The change in volume caused by the pressure pulse is detected by illuminating the skin with the light from a light-emitting diode (LED) and then measuring the amount of light either transmitted or reflected to a photodiode[2]. Each cardiac cycle appears as a peak, as seen in the figure. Because blood flow to the skin can be modulated by multiple other physiological systems, the PPG can also be used to monitor breathing, hypovolemia, and other circulatory conditions.[3] Additionally, the shape of the PPG waveform differs from subject to subject, and varies with the location and manner in which the pulse oximeter is attached.


Sites for measuring PPGEdit

Diagram of the layers of human skin

While pulse oximeters are a commonly used medical device, the PPG derived from them is rarely displayed and is nominally only processed to determine heart rate. PPGs can be obtained from transmissive absorption (as at the finger tip) or reflection (as on the forehead).

In outpatient settings, pulse oximeters are commonly worn on the finger. However, in cases of shock, hypothermia, etc. blood flow to the periphery can be reduced, resulting in a PPG without a discernible cardiac pulse.[citation needed] In this case, a PPG can be obtained from a pulse oximeter on the head, with the most common sites being the ear, nasal septum, and forehead. PPG can also be configured as multi-site photoplethysmography (MPPG), e.g. making simultaneous measurements from the right and left ear lobes, index fingers and great toes, and offering further opportunities for the assessment of patients with suspected peripheral arterial disease, autonomic dysfunction, endothelial dysfunction, and arterial stiffness. MPPG also offers significant potential for data mining, e.g. using deep learning, as well as a range of other innovative pulse wave analysis techniques. [4][5][6]

PPGs can also be obtained from the following parts:

Motion artifacts have been shown to be a limiting factor preventing accurate readings during exercise and free living conditions.


Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC) can be seen in the PPG just as in the EKG and the Blood Pressure (BP).
Venous pulsations can be clearly seen in this PPG.

Monitoring heart rate and cardiac cycleEdit

Because the skin is so richly perfused, it is relatively easy to detect the pulsatile component of the cardiac cycle. The DC component of the signal is attributable to the bulk absorption of the skin tissue, while the AC component is directly attributable to variation in blood volume in the skin caused by the pressure pulse of the cardiac cycle.

The height of AC component of the photoplethysmogram is proportional to the pulse pressure, the difference between the systolic and diastolic pressure in the arteries.[citation needed] As seen in the figure showing premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), the PPG pulse for the cardiac cycle with the PVC results in lower amplitude blood pressure and a PPG.[citation needed] Ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation can also be detected.[citation needed]

Monitoring respirationEdit

The effects of sodium nitroprusside (Nipride), a peripheral vasodilator, on the finger PPG of a sedated subject.[citation needed] As expected, the PPG amplitude increases after infusion, and additionally, the Respiratory Induced Variation (RIV) becomes enhanced.

[citation needed]

Respiration affects the cardiac cycle by varying the intrapleural pressure, the pressure between the thoracic wall and the lungs. Since the heart resides in the thoracic cavity between the lungs, the partial pressure of inhaling and exhaling greatly influence the pressure on the vena cava and the filling of the right atrium. This effect is often referred to as normal sinus arrhythmia.

During inspiration, intrapleural pressure decreases by up to 4 mm Hg, which distends the right atrium, allowing for faster filling from the vena cava, increasing ventricular preload, but decreasing stroke volume. Conversely during expiration, the heart is compressed, decreasing cardiac efficiency and increasing stroke volume. When the frequency and depth of respiration increases, the venous return increases, leading to increased cardiac output.[7]

Monitoring depth of anesthesiaEdit

Effects of an incision on a subject under general anesthesia on the photoplethysmograph (PPG) and blood pressure (BP).

Anesthesiologists must often judge subjectively whether a patient is sufficiently anesthetized for surgery. As seen in the figure, if a patient is not sufficiently anesthetized, the sympathetic nervous system response to an incision can generate an immediate response in the amplitude of the PPG.[citation needed]

Monitoring hypo- and hypervolemiaEdit

Shamir, Eidelman, et al. studied the interaction between inspiration and removal of 10% of a patient’s blood volume for blood banking before surgery.[8] They found that blood loss could be detected both from the photoplethysmogram from a pulse oximeter and an arterial catheter. Patients showed a decrease in the cardiac pulse amplitude caused by reduced cardiac preload during exhalation when the heart is being compressed.


A photoplethysmograph is a device used to optically obtain a volumetric measurement of an organ.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ K. Shelley and S. Shelley, Pulse Oximeter Waveform: Photoelectric Plethysmography, in Clinical Monitoring, Carol Lake, R. Hines, and C. Blitt, Eds.: W.B. Saunders Company, 2001, pp. 420-428.
  2. ^ E. Aguilar Pelaez et al., "LED power reduction trade-offs for ambulatory pulse oximetry," 2007 29th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, Lyon, 2007, pp. 2296-2299. doi: 10.1109/IEMBS.2007.4352784, URL:
  3. ^ Reisner A, Shaltis PA, McCombie D, Asada HH (May 2008). "Utility of the photoplethysmogram in circulatory monitoring". Anesthesiology. 108: 950–8. doi:10.1097/ALN.0b013e31816c89e1. PMID 18431132.
  4. ^ Allen, J.,Overbeck, K.,Nath, A. F.,Murray, A.,Stansby, G.,"A prospective comparison of bilateral photoplethysmography versus the ankle-brachial pressure index for detecting and quantifying lower limb peripheral arterial disease". J Vasc Surg. 47: 794–802. Apr 2008. doi:10.1016/j.jvs.2007.11.057. PMID 18381141.
  5. ^ McKay, N.,Griffiths, B.,Di Maria, C.,Hedley, S.,Murray, A.,Allen, J.,"Novel photoplethysmography cardiovascular assessments in patients with Raynaud's phenomenon and systemic sclerosis: a pilot study". Rheumatology (Oxford). 53: 1855–63. Oct 2014. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keu196. PMID 24850874.
  6. ^ Mizeva, I.,Di Maria, C.,Frick, P.,Podtaev, S.,Allen, J.,"Quantifying the correlation between photoplethysmography and laser Doppler flowmetry microvascular low-frequency oscillations". J Biomed Optics. 20: 037007. Mar 2015. doi:10.1117/1.JBO.20.3.037007. PMID 25764202.
  7. ^ K. H. Shelley, D. H. Jablonka, A. A. Awad, R. G. Stout, H. Rezkanna, and D. G. Silverman, What Is the Best Site for Measuring the Effect of Ventilation on the Pulse Oximeter Waveform? Anesth Analg, vol. 103, pp. 372-377, 2006.
  8. ^ M. Shamir, L. A. Eidelman, Y. Floman, L. Kaplan, and R. Pi-zov, Pulse Oximetry Plethysmographic Waveform During Changes in Blood Volume, Br. J. Anaesth., vol. 82, pp. 178-181, 1999.
  9. ^ Allen, J.,"Photoplethysmography and its application in clinical physiological measurement". Physiol Meas. 28: R1–39. Mar 2007. doi:10.1088/0967-3334/28/3/R01. PMID 17322588.

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