What Are Vital Signs?

Vital signs are the measurements of the body’s most basic functions. The key ones include body temperature, respiration rate, cholesterol levels, pulse rates, and blood pressure. These vital signs help to detect or monitor medical problems. This can be measured in a medical setting, at home, during a medical emergency and other ways. Measuring basic body functions are known as vital signs and often indicate a patient’s health.

Vital Signs


What is Normal Body Temperature?

The normal body temperature of a person varies depending on gender, recent activity, food and fluid consumption, time of the day and in women, the stage of the menstrual cycle. The average normal body temperature is about 37 Degrees Celsius (98.6 Degrees Fahrenheit). However, it can vary depending on the type of person. The body temperature normally rises during the day from a low of 36.3 Degrees Celsius (97.4 Degrees Fahrenheit) to a high of 37.6 Degrees Celsius in the late afternoon. Normal everyday factors can cause a temperature increase such as being out in hot weather, exercising, wearing warm clothes or taking a hot bath. This can cause your body temperature to increase to around 38 Degrees Celsius (100.4 Degrees Fahrenheit).

How do you measure your Body Temperature?

• By ear: A special thermometer can quickly measure the temperature of the ear drum, which reflects the body’s core temperature (the temperature of the internal organs)

• By Skin: a special thermometer can quickly measure the temperature of the skin on the forehead.

• Orally: temperature can be taken via mouth by using either a classic glass thermometer, or modern digital thermometers which use an electric probe to measure body temperature.

• Rectally: Temperatures taken rectally (using a glass or digital thermometer) tend to be 0.5 to 0.7 Degrees Fahrenheit higher than when taken in the mouth.

• Axillary: Temperatures can be taken under the arm using a glass or digital thermometer. These tend to be 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit lower than those temperatures taken by the mouth.

Body temperatures become abnormal due to fever (high temperature) or hypothermia (low temperature). This is indicated when a person’s body temperature rises about one degree or over the normal body temperature (fever) and hypothermia is indicated when a person’s body temperature drops below their normal body temperature below 35 Degrees Celsius.


Glass Thermometer Ear Thermometer Digital Thermometer



What is Respiration Rate?

Respiration rate is the number of breaths a person takes per minute. This 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. This could vary with fever, illnesses and any other medical conditions like asthma, anxiety, pneumonia etc. When monitoring respiration it is important to check whether a person has any difficulties with breathing. Normal respiration rates range from 12 to 20 beats per minute.

How do you measure Respiration Rate?

• Count the breaths as breathing is measured in beats per minute (bpm). To get an accurate measurement the person must be at rest. This means that he/she is not breathing faster than usual due to exercising. It should be at least 10 minutes before you count the person’s breaths. Have the person sit up straight, if measuring a baby lay them flat on their back on a firm surface. Use a stop watch to time one minute. Count the number of times the person’s chest rises and falls during that minute. If the person is aware tell them to breathe normally and to improve accuracy take the measurement three times and average these results.

• Determine whether the breathing rate is within normal range as it varies because children breathe faster than adults. The rates vary in different ages

• 30-60 bpm for a new born baby 0-6 months old

• 24-30bpm for a new born baby 6-12 months old

• 20-30bpm for a child 1-5 years old

• 12-20bpm for a child 6-12 years old

• 12-18bpm for someone who is aged 12 or over

• Look for signs of respiratory distress if someone’s breathing rate is higher or lower than the expected range, he/she has not been exercising indicating something could be wrong.

Other signs of respiratory distress include

• flaring the nostrils during each breath

• the skin has a dusky colour

• the ribs and center of the chest are pulled in

• the person makes a wheezing, grunting or crying sound when breathing

• the persons lips and/or eyelids are blue

• the person is breathing with their entire shoulders/chest area. Considered laboured breathing.

• Check breaths per minute as needed if you are an individual who needs their breathing rate to be taken frequently, then try re-taking it every 15 minutes for non-emergency cases.

Medical emergency:

• Categorise the rhythm, ease and strength of respiration. Normal respiration consists of deep, even breaths during which the rib cage fully contracts and relaxes. Abnormal respiration may appear shallow and rapid, laboured, shallow and deep or noisy may indicate illness or injury.

• Record the current time, respiratory rate and respiratory characteristics, if possible.

Measuring Respiratory Rate Breathing respiratory rate

What are Cholesterol Levels?

Everyone at the age of 20 or over should have his or her cholesterol measured at least once every five years. A blood test called lipoprotein panel can help to show you whether you are at risk of coronary heart disease by looking at substances in your blood which carry cholesterol. This blood test is done after 9-12 hours of no eating and gives results about the following

• Total cholesterol- a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, including low density lipoprotein (LDL bad cholesterol) and high density lipoprotein (HDL good cholesterol).

• Low density lipoprotein (LDL bad cholesterol) - The main source of cholesterol build up and blockage in the arteries. • High density lipoprotein (HDL good cholesterol)- HDL helps to remove cholesterol from your arteries.

• Triglycerides- Another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease.

There are a variety of different factors which can affect your cholesterol levels such as

• Diet- Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat make your blood cholesterol rise. Saturated fat is the main problem and cholesterol in foods also matters. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet helps to lower your blood cholesterol level.

• Weight- Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. It also increases your cholesterol and losing weight can help to decrease your low density lipoprotein (LDL bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels, as well as increase your high density lipoprotein (HDL good cholesterol) levels and reduce your triglyceride levels.

• Physical Activity- Not being physically active is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help reduce your low density lipoprotein (LDL bad cholesterol) and increase your high density lipoprotein (HDL good cholesterol). This also helps you to lose weight and you should aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day.

• Age/Gender- As women and men get older their cholesterol levels increase. Before the age of menopause, women have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After the age of menopause, women’s low density lipoprotein (LDL bad cholesterol) levels tend to increase.

• Genes- Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body creates.

lipoprotein panel blood test Cholesterol Levels  HDL and LDL diagram


What is Pulse Rate?

The pulse rate is the measurement of the heart rate, the number of heart beats per minute. As the heart pushes blood through the arteries, the arteries expand and contract with the flow of blood. Taking a pulse can also measure your heart rhythm, strength of the pulse as well as most importantly your heart rate. The normal pulse for healthy adults ranges from 60-100 beats per minute depending on the type of person and it may increase with exercise, illness, emotions and injuries. As the heart forces blood through to your arteries, you feel the beats by firmly pressing on the arteries, which are located close to the surface of the skin at certain points of the body. The pulse can be found either at the wrist, side of the elbow or on the neck. For most people the easiest way is to take the pulse by using your wrist.

How do you measure your Pulse Rate?

• Using the first and second finger tips, 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 15 seconds and then multiply by four to calculate beats per minute).

• When counting, do not watch the clock continuously, the primary focus is on the beats of the pulse.

• If unsure about results, ask another person to count for you.

• If you are having difficulties finding your pulse after being advised by your doctor then contact your doctor or nurse for additional instructions.

Pulse rate graph Measuring pulse rate measuring pulse rate after exercise


To find out about blood pressure check out our blog section on high blood pressure https://www.nationwidepharmacies.co.uk/nwp-news/high-blood-pressure/