You’ve probably heard the phrase “vital signs,” but you may not know how truly important they are. Vital signs are an objective and helpful way to get a quick snapshot of someone’s health — including your own. For vital signs to be useful, however, you first have to understand what they are and why they’re important.
What are Vital Signs?
Vital signs are an objective measurement of all the critical physiological functions of a person’s body. In healthcare, vital signs are the essential first step in evaluating someone’s health status. Whether in a doctor’s office for a routine check-up or in the emergency room preparing for surgery, healthcare professionals will take a person’s vital signs before providing care. Why? Because vital signs, though simple, offer a plethora of information about a person and help direct the care professionals provide.
Vital signs consist of four basic pieces of information:
- Blood Pressure
- Pulse (Heart Rate)
- Respiratory Rate (Breathing Rate)
The information gathered from these four items can indicate a person’s health status by whether or not the numbers are within normal limits.
Temperature: Normal Range 97.7 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit
A person’s temperature is typically taken with a thermometer by mouth, ear, or forehead. The normal temperature range is 97.7 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, a temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit may indicate a fever from an infection or dehydration. On the other hand, a low temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit may show that the person has been exposed to cold for too long or has an underactive thyroid.
Blood Pressure: Normal Number 120/80 mmHg
Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps out blood and is obtained using a blood pressure device. The numbers on a blood pressure reading consist of two numbers, with one number (systolic) over another (diastolic).
Although “normal” blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or lower, most people fall within a range of that number. Because blood pressure readings measure the force of blood pumped by the heart, it says a lot about the condition of a person’s heart and cardiovascular system. A person with repeated high blood pressure readings of 140/90 mmHg, for example, may have heart disease. In contrast, a person with a very low blood pressure reading of less than 90/60 mmHg may be suffering from heart failure or heatstroke.
Pulse: Normal Range 60 to 100 beats per minute
Typically taken while a person is resting, a normal range for a person’s pulse — also known as heart rate — has a wide span of 40 beats per minute because a normal pulse may vary from person to person.
A person’s pulse fluctuates depending on their emotions, illness, injury, or even how often they exercise. An athlete, for example, may have a normal pulse of about 55 or lower due to their healthy heart. A non-athlete with a slow pulse of 55, however, may have a heart problem. Conversely, someone who has a fever, heart issues, or experiencing severe pain may experience a fast heart rate of 130 beats per minute.
Respiratory Rate: 12 to 20 breaths per minute
Being able to breathe well is essential for life. Your breathing is one of the primary indicators of good health. A normal range for respiratory rate, also known as breathing rate, is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. For example, a low respiratory rate of 9 may indicate a drug overdose or carbon monoxide poisoning. A high respiratory rate of 24, however, may be a sign of a lung condition or pneumonia.
Vital Signs: Knowledge is Power
When it comes to your vital signs, knowledge is power. Taking your vital signs and knowing what the numbers mean can help guide you to make healthy decisions about your habits and lifestyle. Your vital signs show you whether you’re on the right path and what you need to address to make improvements.
Interested in learning more about vital signs? Take a look at the health courses offered by Avidity Medical Design Academy or follow the Avidity Medical Design Blog. You can also visit us on Facebook or Twitter for more information on healthcare.
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