Vital Sign Knowledge For the Everyday Person
Vital signs are one of the first things done when you go to a healthcare appointment or the hospital. They are one of the most basic but also important parts of an assessment. If vital signs are abnormal, it could indicate an array of medical conditions or problems. If you don’t work in the healthcare industry you may not be familiar with what vital signs are or what is considered normal. It is important for the general public to know what normal vital signs are. When a problem arises, it is helpful if you or someone in your household knows how to take vital signs. These could be helpful in an emergency situation or to give your healthcare providers a better picture for monitoring your health. Please be advised if you or a member of your household has abnormal vital signs to seek medical care. If the vital signs are abnormal and you are having symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, heartbeat irregularities, lightheadedness, dizziness, a recent fall, or severe headache, emergency medical care is necessary.
Vital Sign Basics
Vital signs measure the body’s basic functions. If one or multiple vital signs are out of range it could indicate a serious health condition. The five vital signs are temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure. Be advised that small variations in vital signs are normal but you should communicate these with your healthcare provider. Normal pediatric vital signs are slightly different from adults.
Most adults know how to measure their temperature and that a high temperature indicates sickness. It is normal for a person’s temperature to have fluctuations throughout the day. A normal temperature ranges from 97.8 degrees F to 99.5 degrees F. Many healthcare professionals and facilities won’t give medication to lower the temperature until it reaches 100.4 or above. Temperature can be taken through oral, rectal, axillary (under the armpit), tympanic (in the ear), or temporal (on the skin of the forehead) methods. The most accurate are orally and rectally. Do not take a rectal temperature on newborns. When taking an oral temperature make sure to consider if you have recently drunk a hot or cold beverage. This will affect the temperature reading. You should wait 10 – 20 minutes after consuming a hot or cold beverage.
Heart rate is measured by heartbeats per minute. The normal heart rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute. You can measure heart rate by locating the pulse in your wrist or neck with your first two fingertips. This can sometimes be difficult so take your time finding the pulse where it is strong enough for you to count the beats accurately. Once you find the pulse count the number of beats for 1 minute. This will give you your heart rate in beats per minute. You should measure your heart rate while you are resting because if you are exercising your heart rate rises.
The respiration rate is measured by breaths per minute. The normal respiration rate for an adult is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Just like the heart rate, you should measure respiration during rest. It is normal for the respiration rate to increase during exercise. Respiration rate is measured by counting the number of times the chest rises to take a breath over a minute.
Measuring oxygen saturation requires equipment called a pulse oximeter. You can purchase these for home use online or at the drugstore. It is a small clip that is placed on a finger to measure how oxygenated your blood is. Normal oxygen saturation is 90 – 100% if you do not have any pulmonary conditions. If your oxygen saturation drops below 90%, you should seek emergency medical care. Many pulse oximeters can also measure heart rate.
Blood pressure measures the force of contraction against the artery walls when the heart is contracting and relaxing. The top number is referred to as the systolic blood pressure which is the pressure on the arteries when the heart is contracting. The bottom number is referred to as the diastolic blood pressure which is the pressure on the arteries when the heart is relaxing. Taking manual blood pressure takes training and practice so it is recommended that people buy an automatic blood pressure machine for home use. You can purchase these online or at the drugstore. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. Your blood pressure will fluctuate through the day and will rise if you are exercising. When taking blood pressure at home using an automatic cuff make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for an accurate reading.
Blood pressure is very variable and depends on factors such as age, genetics, medical conditions, and medications. Some people have a normal blood pressure that ranges around 90/60 mmHg while others have a normal blood pressure of 130/90 mmHg. If your blood pressure is lower or higher than these ranges you should seek medical attention. If you are also experiencing symptoms, you should seek emergency medical care.
- Having basic knowledge about vital signs is an important and valuable skill
- There are five basic vital signs which are temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure
- Normal adult temperature is 97.8 degrees F to 99.5 degrees F
- The normal adult heart rate at rest is 60 – 100 beats per minute
- The normal adult respiration rate at rest is 12 – 20 breaths per minute
- Normal oxygen saturation is 90 -100%
- Normal adult resting blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg
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