Vital Signs – Vital to Life

Vital signs are measurement of physiological statistics usually taken by health care providers to assess basic body functions.

Vital signs are measurement of physiological statistics usually taken by health care providers to assess basic body functions. Assessing vital signs is basic, yet a very important method for monitoring essential body functions. It monitors the function of specific organs especially the heart and the lungs and as well the entire body systems. Obtaining vital signs helps in establishing baseline data, observing physiologic problems and monitoring patient’s response to therapy.

The four vital signs in most medical settings are temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. The equipment needed is a thermometer, sphygmomanometer and a watch.

Temperature reading gives an indication of the body’s core temperature. It can be measured and recorded in degrees Fahrenheit or degrees Celsius. Patient’s temperature can be obtained through several routes which includes oral, rectal, axillary and tympanic. It is important to choose the route that seems most appropriate for the patient’s age and condition. Axillary temperature taking is the usual route since it is the most accessible and safe. Accurate reading is best achieved by taking the temperature rectally. Normal body temperature ranges from 36o to 37o. Increased temperature indicates hyperthermia which can be a sign of infection, trauma, malignancy drug reactions or immune disorders. Low temperature indicates hypothermia which can be due to exposure to cold or diseases.

The patient’s pulse reflects the amount of blood ejected with each heart beat. Palpation is used in assessing the pulse noting the rate, rhythm and its strength. A normal pulse for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats/min. The radial pulse at the wrist area is the most easily accessible. However, in cardiovascular emergencies, femoral or carotid pulse is palpated. Other pulse sites are located in the temporal, apex, elbow, at the back of the knee, at the foot, and femur. In palpating the pulse, pads of the index and middle fingers are used. Count the pulse in one full minute. Instant pulse reading is obtained with the use of a pulse oximeter. It is readily shown in oximeter monitors once the fingertip is positioned in the proper place.

Blood pressure measurements are helpful in evaluating cardiac output, fluid and circulatory status and as well as arterial resistance.  It consists of systolic and diastolic readings. Systolic reading reflects the maximal contraction of the heart while diastolic reading reflects the minimum pressure exerted on the arterial wall during ventricular relaxation. Diastolic reading is generally more significant than systolic since it evaluates the arterial pressure when the heart is at rest. Normal blood pressure reading is 120/80mmhg. Elevated blood pressure or hypertension is defined when the systolic reading is consistently over 140-160mmhg. Readings below the normal is considered low blood or hypotension.

Respiratory rate assessment varies with age. Number of respirations is counted for 60 seconds. Normal adult respiration ranges for 12-20 breaths per minute. In assessing respirations, the patient must not know that his breath is counted since he may subconsciously alter the rate rendering an inaccurate respiration. To avoid this, respiration should be counted while taking the pulse.