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Taking Vital Signs

One of the most routine tasks that a nursing assistant will perform is taking patients’ vital signs. The four measurements referred to as “vital signs” are temperature, pulse, respirations and blood pressure. Together they provide valuable information about how a person’s body is functioning. Nursing assistants must be extremely accurate when taking and recording a patient’s vital signs. Even small variations from what is normal, or baseline, for a person can indicate a medical problem that might need quick attention.

Temperature is a measurement of how much heat is being produced by the body. A healthy body normally maintains a fairly constant temperature within a normal range (97.6-99.6° when taken orally). A temperature that is above the normal range is called a fever and is a usual response to an infection. When a person’s body temperature falls below the normal range, the condition is called hypothermia. Temperature is measured with a thermometer. Temperature can be measured by placing a thermometer in a person’s mouth, rectum, ear, or armpit.

Pulse is a measurement that provides information about how a person’s heart is working. By measuring pulse rate, you can determine how fast a person’s heart is beating. The normal resting pulse rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Some factors that can increase a pulse, or heart rate, are physical activity and emotional stress. Depression and certain medications can cause a decrease. Pulse is most commonly measured by placing your fingers over an artery on the inside of the wrist.

Respiration refers to breathing. When measuring respirations, you count the number of breaths that a person takes in and lets out per minute. In adults, the normal respiratory rate is between 15 and 20 beats per minute.

Blood pressure measures how hard circulating blood presses on the walls of the arteries. When a person’s blood pressure is high for a long period of time, the heart can be in danger. Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers written like a fraction. The healthy range for blood pressure in adults is less than 120/80.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners