How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (2023)

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (1)

One of the very first practical skills medical students learn is vital sign reading. Measuring vital signs is important: this information tells the doctor how the body works and alerts them to possible medical conditions, many of which are without signs or symptoms.

The important vital signs to monitor in patients are:

  • heart rate (pulse)
  • respiratory rate
  • body temperature
  • blood pressure

Why is it so important to know how to measure vital signs? What kind of data is collected during the vital signs process and what does it tell us about the patient? How do medical professionals collect vital signs and ensure their accuracy? We can answer these questions by looking at each of these measurements and learning about the processes by which they are collected and documented. We'll discuss those tooobservation equipmentare used and indicate the numerical ranges considered normal in the adult population.

What are vital signs?

Vital signs, or vital signs for short, are measurements of the inner workings of the human body. They are collected and recorded over time, giving providers information about how vital organs like the heart and lungs are working. Vital signs can alert providers to medical issues, and these measurements are tracked throughout the patient journey, from pediatrics to acute care and home care.

The four most important vital signs measured routinely by healthcare professionals are heart rate (also known as pulse), respiratory rate, body temperature and blood pressure. Vitalsigns can be taken with no more than a few basic pieces of gear, or with one of the many gadgetsVital Signs Monitorsavailable. Let's take a look at each of these measurements and the processes used to collect and document them, including the numerical ranges that are considered normal in the adult population.

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (2)

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step instructions:

Let's define and outline the step-by-step processes that healthcare professionals—such as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and registered nurses—follow when capturing vital signs in a medical setting. Vital signs are taken in situations ranging from the scene of an accident at the side of the road to remote monitoring at home and everywhere in between. Therefore, healthcare providers need to know how to capture vital signs quickly and correctly.

heart rate (pulse)

Heart rate or pulse is the number of heartbeats per minute (bpm). Heart rate varies from person to person and a normal pulse can range from 60 to 100 beats per minute. A person's heart rate can vary significantly due to fitness level, illness, injury, emotional state - even room temperature can affect heart rate. For example, highly trained athletes may have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute, and this is still considered acceptable.

With some exceptions, patients with vital signs outside the 60 to 100 beats per minute range are likely to be sent for additional testing. Especially if these patients have other symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath. Most of the time, an examination of the heart begins with aElectrocardiogram, or EKG, a relatively simple heart measurement tool.

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (3)

Many heart patients are asked by their doctor to measure their heart rate daily, and some people measure heart rate regularly as part of an exercise program.

(Video) Vital Signs Nursing: Respiratory Rate, Pulse, Blood Pressure, Temperature, Pain, Oxygen

To measure heart rate:

1.Wash your hands.

2. Make sure the person is calm before you begin.

3. The easiest place to find a pulse to measure is the radial artery on the inside of the wrist, closest to the thumb. Alternatively, you can find the pulse on the inside of the elbow (brachial artery), behind the knee (popliteal artery), or on the neck (carotid artery).

4. Use your first and second fingertips (never your thumb) to press firmly but gently on your wrist (or otherwise) until you feel a pulse.

5. On an analog watch or watch, wait for the second hand to point to 12.

6. Start counting the heartbeats.

7. Count your heart rate for 60 seconds until the second hand returns to 12 (you can also count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to calculate beats per minute).

8. When counting, do not constantly watch the clock, but concentrate on the heartbeat.

respiratory rate

Breathing rate, sometimes referred to as respiratory rate, is the number of breaths per minute. This measurement is always carried out in the idle state. A single breath count is equal to one rise (inhalation) and one fall (exhalation) of the chest. The normal range for an adult is 12 to 28 breaths per minute.

To measure respiratory rate:

1.Wash your hands.

2. Place your fingers on the person's wrist (on either side).

3. Count the breaths (inhalation + exhalation = 1 breath) for one minute.

(Video) Measuring Vital Signs

4. Document the respiration rate and note any observations (e.g., wheezing).

Factors such as fever, restlessness, illness, age and even sleep can affect breathing and therefore respiratory rate. Fluctuations in respiratory rate are often seen as an early warning sign for acutely ill hospital patients and are closely monitored in acute care settings.

body temperature

Put simply, body temperature is the amount of heat in the body. Core body temperature is controlled through a process called thermoregulation. No one has exactly the same temperature reading throughout the day as body temperature naturally fluctuates.

The temperature is 37 °C (98.6 °F) than normal, although anything between 36.4 °C (97.6 °F) and 37.5 °C (99.6 °F) is acceptable. A temperature above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) indicates a fever caused by illness or injury. Hypothermia (low temperature) occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees F (35 degrees C).

Thermometers are the tools we use to take body temperature and healthcare providers have several options such as: B. glass thermometers, digital thermometers, eardrum (ear) thermometers and rectal thermometers. Which thermometer you choose ultimately depends on the needs of your organization. Although healthcare professionals need to know how to handle all types, today we most commonly use digital thermometers.

How to measure body temperature with a digital thermometer:

1.Wash your hands.

2.Cover the mouth tip of the thermometer with a clean plastic shield (or clean before and after use for glass).

3. Press the button to set the thermometer.

4. Place the thermometer under the tongue and instruct the person to close their mouth.

5. Wait a few minutes, remove the thermometer when a beep indicates the measurement is complete.

6. Record the temperature including date, time and method used as follows: “O” for oral, “R” for rectal, “E” for ear, “A” for axilla.

7. Clean and sterilize the thermometer.

Note: Oral thermometers are not indicated for some individuals, e.g. B. for people with a history of seizures. Digital thermometers can be used to take an armpit temperature by placing them under the armpit on dry skin for five minutes.

(Video) How to check Vital Signs (Return Demonstration)

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (4)

blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measurement of how effectively oxygen-rich blood moves through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. Blood pressure is expressed in two parts: systolic pressure (the pressure created when blood is pumping from the heart into the arteries) and diastolic pressure (the pressure in the artery when the heart is resting between beats). This is a two number reading recorded as mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) and written as assystolic/diastolic.

For adults, systolic pressure should be less than 130 and diastolic pressure should be less than 85. For this example, the measurement would be written as 130/85. Low blood pressure is calledhypotensionand high blood pressure is calledhypertension.

Instruments used to measure blood pressure include astethoscope,blood pressure cuffwith inflatable balloon (sphygmomanometer) and numbered manometer called digital monitorAneroid-Monitor.

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (5)

To measure blood pressure using a stethoscope, cuff, and aneroid monitor:

1.Wash your hands.

2. DisinfectstethoscopeEarphone and membrane (round disc).

3.Check if the blood pressure monitor is in good condition.

4. Place fingers on underside of elbow to locate pulse (called brachial pulse).

5. Wrap and secure the inflated cuff tightly around the upper armat least an inchupstairs where you felt the strong and steady brachial pulse.

6.PastestethoscopeEarphones and position the membrane directly over the arm pulse.

7. Turn the knob on the air pump clockwise to close the valve.

8. Pump air and inflate the arm cuff until the dial pointer reaches 170.

(Video) VITAL SIGNS (SKILLS DEMO) | Heart Rate, Respiratory Rate, Blood Pressure, Pulse Ox, Temperature

9. Gently turn the knob on the air pump counterclockwise to open the valve and deflate the cuff.

10.Watch the number as the dialing hand falls and listen for a thumping sound.

11. Write down the number displayed where the first beat is heard (systolic pressure).

12.Note the number displayed where the last beat is heard (diastolic pressure).

13. Deflate and remove the cuff.

14. Record the reading, noting it as systolic/diastolic and noting any unusual observations.

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (6)

Blood pressure is considered to be the most difficult vital parameter to learn. Interestingly, blood pressure is not even technically a vital sign, although it is always measured along with other vital signs. With understanding, practice and some help from medical devices such asVital Signs Monitors, anyone can learn how to take blood pressure measurements.

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (7)

measuring vital signs

Serving as a communicator of patient status, Vitalsigns are used to monitor acute to chronic illnesses and everything in between. Vital signs should be assessed when the person is at rest and has not eaten, drunk, smoked, or exercised in the past 30 minutes.

Torecap, normal vital sign ranges for average healthy adults (at rest):

  • Blood pressure: 90/60 mm Hg to 120/80 mm Hg
  • Breathing: 12 to 18 breaths per minute
  • Pulse: 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • Temperature: 36.5°C to 37.3°C (97.8°F to 99.1°F) / average 37°C (98.6°F)

In infants, children and the elderly, the methods and instruments used to measure vital signs do not change significantly. The normal range values ​​for heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in children vary depending on the age of the child. Body temperature is the only vital sign that does not change with age. Vital signs do not change in older people (values ​​should fall within the range considered normal for adults), although it can occasionally be slightly more difficult to accurately measure vital signs in older adults.

For the most accurate readings, it is best if the person does not smoke, drink coffee, or exercise vigorously within 30 minutes of taking Vitals. Don't be afraid to take several measurements a few minutes apart - be sure to write down all the results. And don't forget to write down the date and time and other important details. Vital signs are written using the internationally recognized LOINC standard coding system - be sure to record vital signs in the correct and consistent format.

Always wash your hands before and after contacting a person to take vital signs. Also, make sure that all consumables are cleaned and disinfected according to the manufacturer's instructions and stored in the right place. If you follow these instructions and practice carefully, you will be able to read vital signs like a pro.

(Video) How to Measure Vital Signs

USA Medical and Surgical Supplies offers a full line of stethoscopes, vital sign monitors and other diagnostic equipment at great prices. For more information or if you have questions about finding the right medical device for your organization, please call our toll-free number: (888) 215-0718 or email us

How to measure vital signs - step-by-step guide (8)


How do you measure vital signs? ›

Using the first and second fingertips, press firmly but gently on the arteries until you feel a pulse. Begin counting the pulse when the clock's second hand is on the 12. Count your pulse for 60 seconds (or for 15 seconds and then multiply by four to calculate beats per minute).

What order do you list vital signs? ›

The order of obtaining vital signs is based on the patient and their situation. Health care professionals often place the pulse oximeter probe on the patient while proceeding to obtain their pulse, respirations, blood pressure, and temperature.

What are the 5 main vital signs? ›

Vital signs measure the body's basic functions. These include your temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation.

What should you do first before taking vital signs on a patient? ›

Prior to measuring vital signs, the patient should have had the opportunity to sit for approximately five minutes so that the values are not affected by the exertion required to walk to the exam room. All measurements are made while the patient is seated.

How do you measure blood pressure? ›

How do health care professionals measure my blood pressure? First, a health care professional wraps an inflatable cuff around your arm. The health care professional then inflates the cuff, which gently tightens on your arm. The cuff has a gauge on it that will measure your blood pressure.

How to measure body temperature? ›

Temperature measurement
  1. Mouth: Place the probe under the tongue and close the mouth. Breathe through the nose. ...
  2. Rectum: This method is for infants and small children. They cannot hold a thermometer safely in their mouth. ...
  3. Armpit: Place the thermometer in the armpit. Press the arm against the body.
Jan 29, 2022

How do you measure respiratory rate? ›

How to measure your respiratory rate
  1. Sit down and try to relax.
  2. It's best to take your respiratory rate while sitting up in a chair or in bed.
  3. Measure your breathing rate by counting the number of times your chest or abdomen rises over the course of one minute.
  4. Record this number.
Mar 23, 2020

What are vital signs and briefly explain each? ›

Vital signs reflect essential body functions, including your heartbeat, breathing rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Your health care provider may watch, measure, or monitor your vital signs to check your level of physical functioning.

What is baseline vital signs? ›

Assessing vital signs is a standard component of any patient assessment. The five vital signs to be obtained are respiration, pulse, skin, blood pressure and pupils. Some literature suggests considering pulse oximetry as the sixth vital sign. Baseline refers to the first set obtained on that patient.

What are the four vital signs used to detect a patient's baseline health? ›

The core four

Whether you're at the ER or your primary care doctor's office, most providers check the four main vital signs: heart rate, temperature, pulse and breathing rate.

How often should you check vitals on a stable patient EMT? ›

National EMT prehospital training standards require providers to obtain a baseline set of vital signs as part of the initial assessment, and subsequent sets of vital signs as part of patient reassessment–every 15 minutes in stable patients and every five minutes in unstable patients.

Why is it important to take vital signs in order? ›

Vitals gives us a glimpse into our overall well-being. They signal early signs of an infection, prevent a misdiagnosis, detect symptom-less medical problems, and encourage us to make better choices.

What are the 3 important steps in measuring blood pressure? ›

Step-by-Step Blood Pressure Check
  • Locate your pulse. Locate your pulse by lightly pressing your index and middle fingers slightly to the inside center of the bend of your elbow (where the brachial artery is). ...
  • Secure the cuff. ...
  • Inflate and deflate the cuff. ...
  • Record your blood pressure.
May 6, 2021

How do you measure BP manually? ›

To begin, place the cuff on your bare upper arm one inch above the bend of your elbow. Pull the end of the cuff so that it's evenly tight around your arm. You should place it tight enough so that you can only slip two fingertips under the top edge of the cuff. Make sure your skin doesn't pinch when the cuff inflates.

How many methods are there to measure blood pressure? ›

There are three commonly used methods for measuring blood pressure for clinical purposes: clinic readings, self-monitoring by the patient at home, and 24-hour ambulatory readings.

What are the 3 ways to measure temperature? ›

Three different scales are commonly used to measure temperature: Fahrenheit (expressed as °F), Celsius (°C), and Kelvin (K).

Do you add a degree under the tongue? ›

Should I add a degree to oral (under the tongue) and axillary (under the arm) readings? Yes, for the most accuracy. Rectal temperatures are considered most accurate indication of the body's temperature. Oral and axillary temperature readings are about ½° to 1°F (.3°C to .6°C) below rectal.

What are 3 ways to assess respirations? ›

Use any of the following methods to count:
  • Look at his or her chest rise and fall. One rise and one fall are counted as 1 breath.
  • Listen to his or her breaths.
  • Place your hand on the person's chest to feel the rise and fall.
Feb 6, 2023

What is the unit of vital signs? ›

Normal vital sign ranges for the average healthy adult while resting are: Blood pressure: 90/60 mm Hg to 120/80 mm Hg. Breathing: 12 to 18 breaths per minute. Pulse: 60 to 100 beats per minute.

What are the 7 vital signs? ›

There are four primary vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, pulse (heart rate), and breathing rate (respiratory rate), often notated as BT, BP, HR, and RR. However, depending on the clinical setting, the vital signs may include other measurements called the "fifth vital sign" or "sixth vital sign".

What are the vital signs and what is measured by them? ›

Vital signs reflect essential body functions, including your heartbeat, breathing rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Your health care provider may watch, measure, or monitor your vital signs to check your level of physical functioning.

What are all 6 vital signs? ›

The six classic vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, respiration, height, and weight) are reviewed on an historical basis and on their current use in dentistry.

How many breaths per minute? ›

Respiratory rate: A person's respiratory rate is the number of breaths you take per minute. The normal respiration rate for an adult at rest is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. A respiration rate under 12 or over 25 breaths per minute while resting is considered abnormal.

How many heart beats per minute? ›

A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.

What is pulse rate vs heart rate? ›

There's a connection between your heart rate and your pulse, but they aren't the same. Your heart rate is how fast your heart is beating at a given time. Your pulse is how you can feel your heart rate. Every time your heart beats, it squeezes and propels blood through the network of arteries in your body.

How often are vital signs measured? ›

Our analysis revealed that vital signs– heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure ( SBP), respiration rate (RR), temperature were most commonly measured 6 times/day (approximately once every 4 h).

Why do we monitor vital signs? ›

Vital signs are measured to obtain basic indicators of a patient's health status. If outside of a normal range of values they may point to dysfunction or a disease state.

Why do we check vital signs? ›

Vital signs monitoring is crucial for living a long and healthy life. Vitals gives us a glimpse into our overall well-being. They signal early signs of an infection, prevent a misdiagnosis, detect symptom-less medical problems, and encourage us to make better choices.

What vital signs do medical assistants take? ›

There are four primary vital signs that a medical assistant takes: temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and pulse, or heart rate. Additional measures of clinical significance that may or may not be included in a set of vital signs include height, weight, Body Mass Index (BMI) and peripheral oxygen saturation.

How to measure pulse rate? ›

press the first (index) finger and middle finger of your other hand on the inside of your wrist, at the base of your thumb – don't use your thumb as it has its own pulse. press your skin lightly until you can feel your pulse – if you can't find it, try pressing a little harder or move your fingers around.


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