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COPD and Oxygen Therapy Guidelines: When Is It Necessary?

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


Before oxygen therapy is prescribed there are guidelines or criteria that must be met. These criteria involve a blood test. (These blood test criteria must also be met for Medicare and other insurers to pay for the oxygen costs.) Medical experts produced the criteria. They establish what the levels of oxygen in the blood must be for oxygen therapy to be needed.

These guidelines describe three conditions that require the use of oxygen therapy:

1. PaO2 is less than or equal to 55 mmHg. Or hemoglobin oxygen saturation (SaO2) measured by pulse oximeter is less than or equal to 88 percent when breathing room air at rest.

2. PaO2 of 56-59 mmHg. Or if the hemoglobin oxygen saturation (SaO2) is equal to or greater than

89 percent when linked to specific conditions. These may include Cor Pulmonale, congestive heart failure or erythrocytosis. (With a hematocrit of greater than 56 percent.) (Erythrocytosis means there are more red cells in the blood than normal. Hematocrit measures the percentage of cells in a sample of blood.)

3. Some individuals do not qualify for oxygen therapy while at rest. But they may require oxygen while walking, exercising or during sleep. Oxygen therapy is needed in these cases when the hemoglobin oxygen saturation (SaO2) falls to less than or equal to 88 percent. Also, for the costs of oxygen to be covered by insurance there must be proof that the oxygen therapy used during exercise or sleep improves the individual''s hypoxemia.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is studying the potential role of oxygen therapy in folks with milder hypoxemia. This study could broaden the number of people who might benefit from oxygen therapy.

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