Interpreting hypoxia on an ABG: PaO2 and SaO2

Let’s say you have a 57 year old patient breathing comfortably on room air, and when you walk in the next morning, he’s suddenly on 6 L O2 by nasal cannula. He doesn’t look like he’s in respiratory distress, but you decide to investigate by getting an ABG.

Result: 7.27/47/68

He is satting 93% on 6 L NC. Is that good? Is that bad? How does his O2 sat compare to the PaO2 on his ABG?

Normal PaO2=80-100 mm Hg. PaO2 is affected by age (tends to be lower) and altitude (tends to be lower).

PaO2 and O2 sat can be related through the oxygen-hemoglobin dissocation curve! See this table for PaO2 to O2 sat conversion. Remember that from first year of med school?

Straight from Wikipedia

As you can see, under normal conditions, an O2 sat of 90% correlates with a PaO2 of 60 mm Hg  (bonus points if this makes you realize an O2 sat  of 90% is not totally normal, although for sick, hospitalized patients,  it is acceptable). This curve is useful because it shows that giving supplemental O2 is most useful when someone has an O2 sat <90%. The curve also shows that O2 sat falls slower than the PaO2–a change in PaO2 from 96 to 70 may only show up as a change in O2 sat from 97% to 92%.

FiO2 can also affect an ABG reading. The PaO2 on your ABG should equal FiO2 x 500. If it doesn’t, there’s probably an A-a gradient. The PaO2/FiO2 ratio (or P/F ratio) is useful for categorizing hypoxia as potentially severe (when applied to ARDS).

So what about the patient above? His PaO2 of 68 mm Hg correlated perfectly with an O2 sat of 93%. However, he was also on 6 L NC, and the FiO2 was 40%. This implied that there was a significant A-a gradient

Random notes below:

Why are air bubbles bad? The PO2 of room air is 150 mm Hg, which means any air bubbles trapped in the ABG sample will shift the oxygen value towards 150 mm Hg. When does the ABG have to be put on ice? If it can’t be processed in 15 minutes. (Residual blood cells will continue to use oxygen and make the PaO2 seem lower than it really is.) An ABG on ice can still be analyzed for up to an hour after collection. If I get a value like PaO2=213, what does that mean?! At least you know the patient’s not hypoxic? PO2 is measured directly via electrode. The electrode is calibrated for values between 0-140. Therefore values >150 are of unclear accuracy. Remember that FiO2 affects the value as well.


UC Denver handout

Clinical Methods (E.P. Trulock III)

American Nurse Today


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