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Q&A Portal

What Are Vital Signs?

A vital sign refers to a measurable and objective physiological parameter that provides information about a person’s basic body functions and overall health status. Vital signs are essential indicators of bodily processes and are routinely monitored in healthcare settings to assess a person’s well-being, detect abnormalities, and monitor the progression of medical conditions.

What are the Most Common Vital Signs and Their Normal Ranges?

1. Oxygen Saturation (SpO2): It measures the percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood. It helps assess how well oxygen is being delivered to the body’s tissues. Oxygen saturation refers to the percentage of hemoglobin in the blood that is bound with oxygen. For most people, a normal pulse oximeter reading for oxygen saturation level is between 95% and 100%. If a person has lung disease such as COPD or pneumonia, your normal oxygen saturation level may be lower. Your healthcare provider will let you know what levels are acceptable. Your oxygen saturation levels may also be lower if you live in an area with high elevation (1).

2. Heart Rate (Pulse): The heart rate is a measurement of the number of times the heart beats per minute. As the heart pushes blood through the arteries, the arteries expand and contract with the flow of blood. The normal resting heart rate for a healthy adult ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). It may fluctuate and increase with exercise, illness, injury, and emotional changes (2).

The normal resting heart rate for infants, children, and adolescents is as follows (3):

• Infant (up to 12 months): 100 - 160 beats per minute (bpm)
• Toddler (1-3 years): 90 - 150 bpm
• Preschooler (3-5 years): 80 - 140 bpm
• School-aged child (5-12 years): 70 - 120 bpm
• Adolescent (12-18 years): 60–100 bpm

3. Blood Pressure: Blood pressure measurement provides information about the force exerted by blood against the arterial walls. High blood pressure (hypertension) can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and other complications. Low blood pressure (hypotension) may indicate shock or other circulatory problems.

A normal blood pressure reading is typically around 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The first number, systolic pressure, represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts and pumps blood. The second number, diastolic pressure, represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest between beats.

Below is a general guideline for blood pressure categories, as recommended by the American Heart Association(4).

4. Respiratory Rate: The respiratory rate represents the number of breaths a person takes per minute. Rapid or shallow breathing can be a sign of respiratory distress or underlying lung problems.Although the normal respiratory rate can vary slightly between individuals, the normal respiratory rate in healthy adults is roughly 12 to 20 breaths per minute(5).

5. Body Temperature: 

Body temperature can indicate the presence of infection or other health issues. Extremely high or low temperatures can be cause for concern and may require further investigation.

A normal body temperature for most adults is typically considered to be around 98.6 F (37 °C) when measured orally, but can vary between 97 F to 99 F and still be considered within normal range.

Below are average body temperatures based on age, according to a review of studies and research(6).

How is oxygen saturation (SpO2) measured?

Pulse oximetry is a test used to measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of the blood. It is an easy, painless measure of how well oxygen is being sent to parts of your body furthest from your heart, such as the arms and legs. A clip-like device called a probe is placed on a body part, such as a finger or ear lobe. The probe uses light to measure how much oxygen in the blood. This information helps the healthcare provider decide if a person needs extra oxygen (7).

What are some of the causes of having a low oxygen level (SpO2): Hypoxemia?

Low oxygen levels can be a sign of (8):

• Less oxygen in the air you breathe, such as at high altitudes
• Breathing that is too shallow to meet the lungs’ need for oxygen
• Either not enough blood flow to the lungs or not enough oxygen to the lungs
• Trouble with oxygen getting into the bloodstream and the waste gas carbon dioxide getting out
• A problem with the way blood flows from the heart
• Unusual changes in the protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the red blood cells
• Low oxygen levels can also be caused by anemia, congenital heart defects or disease in children and adults as well as chronic lung conditions such as COPD, asthma, ARDS, pneumonia, etc.

What are some of the symptoms of having a low oxygen level (SpO2)?

Symptoms vary depending on the severity, underlying cause, and which part of your body is affected. When your oxygen is low you might feel like you can’t breathe or think properly, some additional symptoms include(9):

• Restlessness
• Headache
• Confusion
• Anxiety
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid breathing
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Severe cases can cause additional symptoms such as:
• Slow heart rate
• Extreme restlessness
• Bluish skin

How can I increase my oxygen saturation level (SpO2)?

There are some ways to naturally increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, including(1):

Breathing in fresh air: Opening your windows or going outside for a walk can increase the amount of oxygen that your body brings in, which increases your overall blood oxygen level.

Quitting smoking: Only two to three weeks after you quit smoking, your circulation will likely improve significantly. After one to nine months, your shortness of breath decreases. Both of these aspects contribute to your body’s ability to take in more oxygen.

Practicing breathing exercises: Simple breathing exercises like pursed-lip breathing and deep belly breathing can open your airways and increase the amount of oxygen in your blood.It is important to note that if you have an underlying condition, especially a severe illness such as pneumonia or carbon monoxide poisoning, these natural remedies may not be enough to increase your blood oxygen to an acceptable level.

How is heart rate (pulse) measured?

The heart rate can be measured manually or by means of special devices. It can be measured by ‘palpation’ with the fingers on all points on the body where arteries run superficially. The best known palpation site is in the area of the wrist (radial pulse). Electronic measurement of pulse rate takes place by means of electrocardiogram (ECG). For optical measurements, various devices and sensors can be used at different locations of the body. The most commonly used devices are earlobe and finger clips, smartwatches, fitness trackers or in ear sensors(10).

What are some of the causes of a very high heart rate (tachycardia)?

A high heart rate, also known as tachycardia, can be caused by multiple things, including the following (11).

• Stress: When your body responds to something stressful, frightening or upsetting, you may get a jolt of adrenaline, which increases your heart rate.

• Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism): Having too much thyroid hormone in your system makes your heart beat faster than it should, increasing your heart rate

• Anemia: If you have anemia, you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around your organs; your heart may beat more rapidly to compensate for this, in an attempt to help whatever oxygen-rich blood you have to reach your organs more quickly

• Medication side effects: A number of drugs may cause your heart rate to increase, including some medications that treat colds, asthma, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure

• Addictive substances: Caffeine, cigarettes and high levels of alcohol may cause your heart rate to rise after you use those substances; additionally, illegal drugs like cocaine may also have this effect on your heart rate

• Strenuous physical activity: When you exert more than your body is prepared for, the heart rate increases to meet the higher demand. 

Some people who are born with congenital heart conditions may experience an elevated heartbeat. Other people who develop heart disease over time may notice that their heart rate feels high. When something gets in the way of the heart working properly, it may have to beat more quickly to pump blood more efficiently.

Heart conditions which may cause an elevated heart rate include:

• Heart failure
• Heart rhythm problems
• Heart valve problems
• Coronary artery disease
• Scar tissue that forms after heart surgery

What are the symptoms of a very high heart rate?

Some people don’t have symptoms, while others may have have mild to severe symptoms, including(12):

• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Heart palpitations
• Dizziness
• Lightheadedness
• Fainting

What are risk factors for having a very high heart rate?

Risk factors for a high heart rate include(12):

•  Using tobacco products
•  Having a family history of high heart rate
•  Stress
•  Having high blood pressure
• Obesity
• Drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol
• Untreated thyroid issues
• Illegal drug use
• Other heart related conditions
• Taking medicines used to treat heart conditions

What are some of the causes of a very low heart rate (bradycardia)?

A low heart rate is normal for some people, especially if you are extremely fit. However it can also be caused by(13):

• Damage to your heart due to aging or heart disease (such as heart attack)
• Cardiomyopathy (a range of diseases in which your heart muscle can’t pump blood as well as it should) or myocarditis (inflammation of the myocardium)
• Hypothyroidism (thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs)
• Electrolyte imbalance in your blood
• Heart disorder present at birth (congenital heart defect)
• Various medicines
• Sleep apnea (breathing pauses at night due to partial or complete blockage of the throat)

What are the symptoms of a very low heart rate?

For many people, a low heart rate doesn’t cause any symptoms. This is especially true for people who are very physically active because their hearts are more efficient. For people whose hearts can’t or don’t compensate, the symptoms tend to cause the following(14):

• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain (angina)
•  Fatigue
•  Heart palpitations (the unpleasant feeling of your own heartbeat without using your hands to feel for your pulse)
•  Memory problems
• Confusion
•  Difficulty concentrating
•  Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting (syncope)
• Irritability, agitation or other personality changes

What does it mean when a medical device is FDA-cleared?

When a medical device or product is “FDA-cleared”, it means that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the device or product and determined that it is safe and effective for its intended use.

The FDA has different regulatory pathways for medical devices, depending on the level of risk they pose to patients.

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