What Is Cerebral Oximetry?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Cerebral oximetry is the measurement of oxygen saturation in the brain. This organ requires a great deal of oxygen to function and is extremely sensitive to periods of deprivation. Monitoring oxygen levels can provide important information about a patient's neurological health, and may allow care providers to rapidly address falling oxygen saturation in the brain. This can improve patient outcomes and reduce the risk of brain damage, stroke, and other neurological trauma.

Oxygen monitoring is used primarily in an operating room setting when surgeons are concerned that a patient's levels might drop. This can be a particular worry with cardiac surgery, as well as procedures with high rates of blood loss, and surgeries involving children. The anesthesiologist can use cerebral oximetry along with other technology to monitor the patient throughout the procedure. If signs of complications or problems develop, the anesthesiologist can respond and alert the care team.

The equipment used for cerebral oximetry measurements relies on changes in the absorption of light as it passes through the brain to determine the level of oxygen present. This can provide information about local oxygen saturation, and may be combined with readings from elsewhere in the body to determine the distribution of oxygen throughout the patient. Anesthesiologists can program a display to provide readings on blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, and other key values of concern throughout the procedure. Monitoring software also generates a log available for review after the surgery.


This testing is not invasive and shouldn't involve pain or disruption for the patient. The anesthesiologist or another care provider places sensors on the skull, tests them to make sure they're working, and connects them with the equipment. These along with other sensors for patient monitoring can be set up as the surgical team prepares to induce anesthesia. Patients who are curious about the equipment used can ask for more information.

In addition to being used in surgery, cerebral oximetry can have some other applications. Sleep studies may involve the use of oximetry to evaluate oxygen levels in the brain and elsewhere in the body to determine if patients experience oxygen deprivation during sleep. This test may also be requested for other reasons if a medical professional believes it to be necessary. When patients are awake during the test, it is important to avoid jarring the cerebral oximetry leads, as this could pull the sensors off or disrupt the readings and necessitate a repeat of the test.


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