Vital signs are measurements of the body’s most basic functions.
The four main vital signs routinely monitored by medical professionals and health care providers include the following:
1. Body temperature
2. Pulse rate
3. Respiration rate (rate of breathing)
4. Blood pressure
The normal body temperature of a person varies depending on gender, recent activity, food and fluid consumption, time of day, and, in women, the stage of the menstrual cycle. Normal body temperature can range from 97.8 degrees F (or Fahrenheit, equivalent to 36.5 degrees C, or Celsius) to 99 degrees F (37.2 degrees C) for a healthy adult.
The pulse rate is a measurement of heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute. As the heart pushes blood through the arteries, the arteries expand and contract with the flow of the blood.
Taking a pulse not only measures the heart rate, but also can indicate the following:
• Heart rhythm
• Strength of the pulse
The normal pulse for healthy adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.The pulse rate may fluctuate and increase with exercise, illness, injury, and emotions. Females ages 12 and older, in general, tend to have faster heart rates than do males. Athletes, such as runners, who do a lot of cardiovascular conditioning, may have heart rates near 40 beats per minute and experience no problems.
The respiration rate is the number of breaths a person takes per minute. The rate is usually measured when a person is at rest and simply involves counting the number of breaths for one minute by counting how many times the chest rises. Respiration rates may increase with fever, illness, and other medical conditions. When checking respiration, it is important to also note whether a person has any difficulty breathing.
Normal respiration rates for an adult person at rest range from 12 to 16 breaths per minute.
Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls during contraction and relaxation of the heart.
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure. The higher number, or systolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body. The lower number, or diastolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood.
Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are recorded as “mm Hg” (millimeters of mercury).
High blood pressure, or hypertension, directly increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. With high blood pressure, the arteries may have an increased resistance against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood.
Blood pressure is categorized as normal, elevated, or stage 1 or stage 2 high blood pressure:
Normal blood pressure is systolic of less than 120 and diastolic of less than 80 (120/80)
Elevated blood pressure is systolic of 120 to 129 and diastolic less than 80
Stage 1 high blood pressure is systolic is 130 to 139 or diastolic between 80 to 89
Stage 2 high blood pressure is when systolic is 140 or higher or the diastolic is 90 or higher
A blood pressure reading lower than 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for the top number (systolic) or 60 mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic) is generally considered low blood pressure.
These numbers should be used as a guide only. A single blood pressure measurement that is higher than normal is not necessarily an indication of a problem.