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I am new. I live in Canada. My doctor retired. I was lucky because she referred me to her friend (doctor).

Long story as short as I can make this, my new Doctor ordered a complete blood test. My red blood cells were off the top. A year of testing including 2 bone marrow tests. I was diagnosed with polycythaemia (secondary) which meant my high red blood cells were trying to get oxygen to my body. To bring the levels down I had to have blood taken to reduce the high level of my red blood counts. Finally the diagnosis was secondary and the result was COPD. The Hemotologist confirmed this. Was referred to a respirologist. After he ordered a few more tests he put me on a CPAP machine that is used for sleep apnea but also helps with COPD.

It took me forever to get used to this but felt more energetic the next day. Two more tests which was a walk test and the oximeter overnight test which indicated low oxygen levels. Before I knew it, an oxygen tank was delivered to my home and smaller ones to use when I am on exertion.

It has been beyond overwhelming for me. I don’t need oxygen when sleeping cause I use the CPAP machine, I only need supplemental oxygen on exertion. My question is what kind of exertion do they mean? Please help me.

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  • Mendo Bruce
    3 years ago

    Any activity that causes my SpO2 saturation to fall to 90% or lower is exertion that requires me to use supplemental oxygen, according to my doctor.

    How do I know what causes my saturation to drop? I use a pulse-oximeter (Those little things that clip on the end of your finger at the doctors office) Accurate pulse-oximeters can be found at some drug stores and online at Amazon for as little as $20.

    I have VERY severe COPD and just walking 15ft to the bathroom and back will cause my readings to drop into the 80’s without my oxygen. I would recommend an oximeter for every patient using oxygen. Ask your doctor where your levels should be.

  • EllenJaneLockhart author
    3 years ago

    Thankyou for taking the time to respond to me here in Canada. This has happened so fast. Faster then I can get my head around it all. Very long story here. Been over a year of intensive testing all due to routine blood work. My Doctor called to have me come in. My red blood cells were very high. Diagnosed as Polycythemia. Then the testing began to determine if it was primary or secondary. One full year. Bone marrow aspirations. 2 of them. Nothing showed up to confirm primary. Cat scan showed emphasima. Then it was nailed. Secondary. My body was working overtime to produce red blood cells to get oxygen. Then was referred to a Respirologist. More tests. Just three weeks ago the 6 minute walk test revealed my levels dropped below 90. Then another 6 minutes on the tread mill with oxygen. 3 days later I got a call from an oxygen company to see when they could drop off oxygen cylinders and one that stays in my home. I was in total shock. Totally overwhelmed when I saw the truck pull in. I am onky to use it while on excertion. Not sleeping. Not when sitting. I am slowly getting used to it after a lot of tears. Sorry for venting but I don’t know one person to talk to about this. Thankyou for at least confirming. I will go tomorrow to get the finger oxygen reader. Now that’s my first step thanks to you.
    Ellen from Canada

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Mendo Bruce – we appreciate you sharing your experiences using supplemental oxygen and your pulse oximeter to gauge your oxygen saturation levels on exertion. I’m sure others will benefit from reading what you’ve written.
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi EllenJaneLockhart,

    That’s a great question! Exertion is different for every individual. I might think walking up 4 flights of stairs is exertion, while someone else might not think so at all. When they did your walk test, that would have determined what exertion is to you. It may have taken 3 or 4 minutes of fast walking to get to the point where you needed supplemental oxygen. They should have told you exactly how much you need at that point. It may have been 2 or 3 liters per minute upon exertion. If they weren’t specific about how much exercise you’d be doing when you need to put on your oxygen, I would certainly make it a point to ask next time you see your doctor. In the meantime, you probably know when you feel like you need it. Particularly if you’re walking a distance, cleaning the house, or whatever else may constitute exertion to you. The point of supplemental oxygen is that a person not be short of breath or feel light-headed because they’re over-doing.

    I hope that helps a little. You definitely want to follow up with you doctor about specifics.


    Lyn (moderator)

  • Jenn Patel
    3 years ago

    Hi EllenJaneLockhart-

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. While you may hear back from our moderators as well as community members in response to your question, I thought it was important to note that we cannot give medical advice via the internet, for your own safety. We do encourage you to reach back out to the doctor who prescribed the supplemental oxygen for exertion, as soon as you can, so they can tell you exactly what it means for your specific case.

    Please do keep us posted on how you’re doing! We’ll be thinking of you.

    Jenn (Community Manager,

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi EllenJaneLockhart and welcome.
    We’re glad you found us and thanks so much for sharing your experiences regarding COPD and polycythemia as well. As Jenn, pointed out, we are unable to provide medical advice over the internet (for your own safety), but your question warrants a reply. In the most general of terms, ‘on exertion’ refers to any (physical) activity that would increase your heart rate and challenge your breathing. It’s important to understand as well, that all patients with COPD are different and have different symptoms. One person may tax themselves by just walking across the room, while another may be able to climb stairs without difficulty. I would suggest (as Jenn did), that you return to your physician for a more thorough explanation that is specific to your particular situation. I hope that this brief reply is helpful to you. Please do check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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