What are vital signs?

Vital signs measure your body’s basic functions. The measurements check your general physical health. They’re the first step of any medical exam or evaluation. Vital signs are important because they give a healthcare provider clues about any underlying conditions that affect your health or show your progress toward recovery.

There are four main vital signs:

  • Body temperature.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Pulse (heart rate).
  • Respiratory rate (breathing rate).

What are normal vital signs?

Normal vital signs vary based on your age, BMI, sex and overall health.

Vital signAdults
Temperature97.8 F to 99.1 F (36.5 C to 37.3 C).
Blood pressure90/60 mm Hg to 120/80 mm Hg.
Pulse60 to 100 beats per minute.
Respiratory rate12 to 18 breaths per minute.

What are pediatric vital signs?

Pediatric vital signs, or vital signs for children, measure your child’s basic body functions. The measurements are different for children than they are for adults. For example, a baby’s pulse may range from 110 to 160 beats per minute (bpm) and an adult’s heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 bpm.

What are orthostatic vital signs?

Orthostatic vital signs check your blood pressure and pulse when you’re lying down, and then when you’re standing up. Your vital signs may change when your position changes if you experienced or are at risk of:

Orthostatic vital signs are usually taken in a healthcare provider’s office or in a hospital setting.

What is body temperature?

Body temperature is the expected temperature of the human body. You may notice your body temperature change when you exercise or when you’re feeling ill.

The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), but the normal temperature for a healthy person can range between 97.8 F to 99.1 F (36.55 C to 37.27) or slightly higher.

A temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C) is classified as a fever. A drop in body temperature below 95 F (35 C) is hypothermia.

How do I check my body temperature?

You can measure your body temperature at home by using a thermometer:

  • If using a temporal thermometer, place it hoovering just in front of your forehead. When using a traditional thermometer, insert the tip of the thermometer into your mouth or rectum or place it under your armpit.
  • After a few seconds, remove the thermometer and read the temperature. Follow the instructions that came with your thermometer to get an accurate reading.
  • Wash and sanitize your thermometer after each use.

A healthcare provider can also measure your body temperature using a special thermometer inserted into your ear canal.

What affects my body temperature?

Factors that can affect your body temperature include:

  • Being in a hot or cold environment.
  • Exercise.
  • Eating hot or cold foods and beverages.
  • Strong emotions.

Medical conditions that can cause your body temperature to change include:

As you age, your body isn’t able to regulate your body temperature as well as it should. That’s why you may note more frequent temperature changes if you’re 65 or older.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure is written as two numbers.

  • Systolic pressure is the first number. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and pushes blood out to your body.
  • Diastolic pressure is the second number. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

Healthy blood pressure for an adult, relaxed at rest, is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

How do I check my blood pressure at home?

You can check your blood pressure at home by using a manual or digital blood pressure monitor (sphygmomanometer). To take an accurate blood pressure reading, you should:

  • Find a quiet place to relax, sit down and place the blood pressure cuff around your arm.
  • Inflate the cuff by following the instructions.
  • Read the gauge on the cuff and write down the measurement.

Some drug stores or pharmacies offer an electronic blood pressure reading. Be aware that these aren’t considered accurate measurements of your blood pressure.

What is a high blood pressure measurement?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a reading of 130/80 mmHg or higher. A systolic pressure of 130-139 or a diastolic pressure of 80-89 is considered high blood pressure stage 1.

Systolic pressure greater than 140 and a diastolic pressure greater than 90 is considered high blood pressure stage 2. Your healthcare provider will discuss with you various treatment options based on your individual health.

A systolic pressure greater than 180 and a diastolic pressure greater than 90 is considered a hypertensive crisis and you should consult your healthcare provider immediately.

Blood pressure that remains high for an extended time, for example, longer than a few years, can cause health issues, including:

What is a low blood pressure measurement?

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is a reading of 90/60 mm Hg or lower. This can be normal for some people and not a cause for concern. However, low blood pressure can cause symptoms of an underlying health condition. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have a low blood pressure reading and experience:

What is normal blood pressure for children?

Pediatric blood pressure, or a child’s blood pressure, varies based on their age.

AgeSystolic blood pressure (top number) mm HgDiastolic blood pressure (bottom number) mm Hg
0 to 3 months (newborn)65 to 85.45 to 55.
3 to 6 months70 to 90.50 to 65.
6 to 12 months80 to 100.55 to 65.
1 to 3 years90 to 105.55 to 70.
3 to 6 years95 to 110.60 to 75.
6 to 12 years100 to 120.60 to 75.
12 to 17 years100 to 120.70 to 80.

A healthcare provider will check your child’s blood pressure during a routine appointment. Typically, blood pressure checks during well-child or regular appointments are the only times providers need to take your child’s blood pressure.

What can affect my blood pressure?

Factors that can affect your blood pressure reading include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Caffeine or beverages containing alcohol.
  • Certain medications.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Cold temperatures.
  • Exercise.
  • A full bladder.
  • A full stomach.
  • The amount of salt in your diet.
  • Smoking.
  • Stress.

If you’re measuring your blood pressure, remember these factors when reading your results. If someone else is taking your blood pressure, tell them about any factors that may affect your measurement.

What is a pulse?

Your pulse is the number of times your heart beats per minute. A normal pulse rate for a healthy adult at rest ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Pulse rates vary from person to person. Women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) tend to have faster pulse rates than men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB).

Your pulse is lower when you’re at rest and higher when you exercise. This happens because your body needs more oxygen-rich blood when you exercise.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Talk to a provider if your pulse rate is routinely less than 60 beats per minute or more than 100 beats per minute.
  • Each beat should be equally spaced out.
  • Beats shouldn’t be excessively strong. This could indicate that your heart is working hard.
  • Your heart shouldn’t skip a beat.

How do I check my pulse?

You can measure your pulse by firmly, but gently, pressing your first and second fingertips against certain points on the body — most commonly at your wrist or neck. Use your watch and count the number of heartbeats you have in 60 seconds. The result is your pulse or heart rate.

What can affect my pulse?

Factors that can affect your pulse include:

  • Exercise.
  • Stress.
  • Strong emotions.
  • Caffeine.

Health conditions that can affect your pulse may include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Some medications, especially beta-blockers and digoxin, can slow your pulse.

What is a respiratory rate?

Your respiratory rate, or your breathing rate, is the number of breaths you take per minute. The normal respiratory rate for an adult at rest is 12 to 18 breaths per minute. A respiration rate under 12 or over 25 breaths per minute while resting may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

How do I check my respiratory rate?

You can check your respiratory rate by:

  • Finding a quiet location to sit down and relax.
  • Use your watch and count how many breaths you take in 60 seconds.

It can be difficult to count your own breaths, especially if you’re nervous or anxious. You can ask a friend or family member to help you check your respiratory rate. They’ll be able to see your chest rising and falling with each breath to get an accurate measurement.

What conditions affect my respiratory rate?

Health conditions that can affect your respiratory rate include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Vital signs are important indicators of your overall health. Checking your vitals is the first step toward finding out what’s going on in your body. Vital signs let your care team know if you’re having a medical emergency or if there’s an underlying medical condition affecting your well-being. A healthcare provider will let you know if you need to check your vital signs at home regularly. Children usually don’t need their vitals checked outside of pediatric appointments. If your vital signs are abnormal or you have a question about how to take your vital signs, talk with a healthcare provider.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/15/2023.


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