Monitoring Vital Signs: A Basic, but Important Component of Health Care
When patients visit their doctor’s office, one of the first things the physician or nurse will do is check the patient’s vital signs. These indicators can reveal much about a patient’s health and serve as an important starting point for evaluating the patient’s overall wellbeing, and diagnosing any illnesses or conditions. Health care professionals must have the proper training and reliable medical equipment to measure blood pressure, respiration rate, body temperature, and pulse rate.
Vital sign monitoring provides three important pieces of information to health care professionals:
- A quick method of detecting a serious medical problem.
- A method of determining how severe a medical problem is and how well the body is coping. The more out of normal range vital signs are, the more severe the patient’s condition.
- An indicator of chronic illness.
Vital signs are particularly important to emergency responders, as they provide fast information that they can use to determine what treatment to provide and how well the patient is responding to that treatment. For example, a responder who finds that a patient has a dangerously low respiration rate and low pulse rate will likely choose to initiate CPR.
Understanding the Four Basic Vital Signs
Medical professionals monitor four basic vital signs when beginning an examination or treatment. Understanding these vital signs and the information they provide is the cornerstone of doctors’ and nurses’ professional training.
- Blood pressure – This vital sign represents the force of blood flowing through the patient’s arteries. When the heart beats, it pumps blood into the patient’s arteries. Blood pressure is at its strongest when the heart beats. The time between beats is when it is at its lowest strength.
Blood pressure is an important gauge of health because, when blood pressure is too high, it indicates resistance in the arteries to blood flow, and that the heart is working harder than it should to ensure adequate blood flow. High blood pressure is a warning sign of coronary disease, and it can result in a heart attack or stroke.
When health care professionals measure blood pressure, they evaluate two numbers. The higher number is systolic pressure, which represents blood pressure when the heart beats and pumps blood. The lower number is diastolic pressure and refers blood pressure when the heart is between beats.
High blood pressure is defined by most medical authorities as a reading above 140 mm Hg for systolic pressure, and/or 90 mm Hg for diastolic pressure. Patients bear monitoring when their blood pressure reads 120 mm Hg or greater for systolic pressure, and/or 80 mm Hg for diastolic pressure.
Health care professionals can monitor blood pressure with a manual sphygmomanometer and stethoscope or a digital sphygmomanometer. When using a manual sphygmomanometer, health care workers securely fit a cuff around the patient’s arm. The cuff is then inflated until the artery is occluded and released.
While the sphygmomanometer deflates and the reading in the gauge attached to the device falls, the health care worker listens with a stethoscope to the patient’s brachial artery (located at the elbow). The pressure at which a pounding sound is heard notes the systolic pressure, and the pressure at which the sound can no longer be heard represents the diastolic pressure.
Digital sphygmomanometers are also typically placed around the patient’s arm, inflated, and released. Electronic devices use the oscillometric method to measure the systolic and diastolic pressure.
- Temperature – Normal human body temperature typically varies between 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit to 99 degrees Fahrenheit for healthy adult patients. Abnormally high or low temperatures can indicate serious illness.
Health care professionals use thermometers to gauge body temperature. There are a variety of thermometer types, including traditional mercury thermometers and digital thermometers. Thermometers may be used by inserting the device orally, rectally, under the arm, or in the ear. Some thermometers work by measuring the temperature on the skin of the forehead.
High body temperature often indicates that the body is fighting off an infection. However, if a body temperature becomes too high, it can cause serious medical conditions. When a body temperature becomes too high, medical professionals work to reduce the temperature and treat the underlying condition causing the rise in temperature.
- Pulse rate – The pulse rate reflects how many times the heart beats per minute. By monitoring pulse rates, health care professionals ascertain not only the strength of the patient’s pulse, but also how regular the patient’s heart beats. In most adults, a normal pulse rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Pulse rates can increase during athletic activity, or when patients are injured, or are experiencing emotional excitement or distress.
Low pulse rates or irregular pulse rates can indicate some serious illnesses, including heart disease. Physicians and other health care professionals can monitor pulse rate by pressing their fingers to the patient’s wrist and counting beats. For more accurate results, health care professionals may use a pulse oximeter.
- Respiration rate – This reflects the number of breaths a patient takes each minute. Doctors monitor respiration rates when the patient is at rest by counting the number of breaths per minute. They often use stethoscopes to aid in this process, as they can also monitor the quality of a patient’s breathing. A normal adult patient typically takes 12 to 16 breaths per minute.
Fast, shallow breathing often indicates that the patient has a respiratory infection or other illness. Difficulty in breathing can also indicate a host of other medical issues. Low respiratory rates may indicate brain conditions, such as stroke, metabolic issues, or use of drugs or alcohol.
Because vital signs provide health care workers with valuable, actionable information regarding patient health, medical professionals need the very best equipment for checking vital signs. Medical Device Depot carries the most trusted names in medical equipment, allowing hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices affordable, convenient access to devices they can trust. Medical Device Depot offers the competitive pricing, easy payment terms, and warranties that make the company the first choice in medical devices for doctors and nurses.
Ensure you have the right vital sign monitoring equipment today!