When a patient comes to the hospital, one of the nurses’ primary tasks is to take their vital signs. But is taking a patient’s vitals so important?

Vital signs are key indicators that inform medical practitioners about the patient’s health. These measurements consist of the body temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

As a result of these assessments, a nurse can pinpoint the patient’s disease, check for allergies, prevent misdiagnosis, and ultimately make lifestyle recommendations.

Treatment should be tailored to individual patients and their needs. These needs are identified by taking a patient’s vitals and accounting for the differences in symptoms that vary from individual to individual.

Which vital signs are important and why? Here is what you need to know:

1.     Measuring Respiration Rate

Respiration rate is a crucial indicator in many underlying health problems. By checking a patient’s respiration rate, you can pinpoint the exact problem.

Perhaps the patient has high levels of anxiety, alcohol intoxication or symptoms of a stroke. A patient’s breathing rate will inform you of his overall well-being. Not everyone can take accurate vitals. That’s why only registered nurses can be trusted to take vitals of patients in reputable hospitals.

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To conduct respiratory test, you need to time a patient’s breath by observing the rise and fall of their chest. The average breathing rate in adults is about 12 to 20 breaths per minute. In contrast, children may have 44 breaths per minute before the age of two, after which it goes down to 26 breaths per minute.

Patients could be hyperventilating for the following reasons:

  • Anxiety: When a patient has an anxiety attack, they may start breathing loud and fast, almost like panting. However, in that case, you should regulate the patient’s breath by telling them to breathe slowly to make them calm.
  • Fever: A high respiration rate is also caused by fever. Generally, a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit may cause the patient to breathe hard in order to rid the body of the excess heat.
  • Respiratory Ailments: If a patient has any pulmonary (lungs) obstruction, inflammation, or blockage in the nasopharyngeal passageway, they will have a high respiratory rate. Examples include asthma, pneumonia, pleural effusion, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Heart Conditions: If the patient’s heart is not pumping adequately, it can cause them to breathe rapidly to make up for the oxygen deprivation in their blood.
  • Other Causes of High Respiration: Dehydration, allergic reactions, and diabetic ketoacidosis.

However, patients could also be susceptible to low respiratory rates. Generally, low respiratory rates are caused by: blocked valves, cardiac arrest, or bradypnea.

But here are some other reasons why a patient may have lower respiratory rate of 12 breaths or less:

  • Drug Overdose:Overdosing on drugs like benzodiazepines or narcotics can cause the nervous system to slow down, resulting in shallow breathing.
  • Sleep Apnea:Obstructive Sleep apnea is when the patient’s airways get blocked. Consequently, a patient may experience gaps between each breath as they sleep.
  • Head Injuries: Concussion or any head injury, affecting the medulla, can impact respiratory rate causing the patient to have low breathing.

2.     Checking Body Temperature

The body temperature is an excellent indicator if the patient has an infection, is dealing with an autoimmune condition, or has inflammation anywhere in the body. The average temperature of adults and infants is around 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

A temperature crossing the 100 degrees Fahrenheit threshold should be alarming. Here are a few ways nurses use to measure temperature using a digital thermometer:

  • Through The Ear. A tympanic thermometer is a handheld device that allows you to take the body’s core temperature by detecting infrared heat in the ear.
  • Through the Mouth: Oral temperatures involve using a digital thermometer or an electronic probe to measure the body’s temperature by placing it under a patient’s tongue for a minute.
  • Axillary Method. In this method, the thermometer is placed in the cranny of the patient’s armpit. The reading obtained this way is a little lower than the one take orally.
  • Rectal Reading. Although rectal readings are no longer used on adults, nurses may use them when getting accurate reading on infants or pets. The temperature obtained through this is a degree higher than the one obtained by an oral reading.

Telltale signs of high temperature include sweating, flushed skin, and lethargy. The patient may sleep for more than 48 hours in severe cases. High temperature is because of an infection caused by dengue, an autoimmune condition like lupus, or a bacterial infection such as e.coli.

On the other end of the spectrum is a sudden drop in temperature. A patient having a body temperature lower than 95 degrees Fahrenheit is cause for alarm and is called hypothermia.

The most common symptoms of hypothermia include: prolonged exposure to cold, shivering, slurred speech, and a bluish tinge on the skin.

3.     Monitoring Pulse Rate

The number of pulses per minute measures the heart rate. This informs you if the patient’s heart is functioning or skipping beats. The rhythmic contraction of the arteries produces a heartbeat. So, to test the patient’s pulse, you need to place at least two fingers on different points on their skin.

The most common location to look for a pulse is the wrist. Other options include the neck near the jugular, the elbow, and in extreme cases, the toes.

You’re looking for the strength of the pulse and the heart rhythm. An average pulse is easy to feel and has a regular beating pattern. The standard range is between 60 to at least 100 beats per minute for adults.

However, fitness levels, gender, and illness can impact the pulse rate, causing it to rise or fall. For instance, athletes commonly have a low resting rate of about 40 beats per minute.

On the other hand, babies have a fast heart rate, most hitting 130 beats per minute. Adult patients with more than 100 beats per minute may have an infection, be stressed, or going through anemia. A lower heart ratemay also suggestthat the patient is on beta-blockers and has a heart condition.

4.     Evaluating Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is an important vital sign that needs immediate attention, especially if the patient is coming through the emergency room. Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood flow.

It can also inform you if the patient has lost significant blood. The blood pressure gets divided into two categories. The systolic pressure is a measure of the pressure with which the blood goes out toward the different parts of the body, while the diastolic pressure is the resting pressure of the arteries.

The average adult should have less than 120 systolic pressure and less than 80 diastolic pressure. The reading should be 120/80. Any reading above this indicates borderline hypertension.

Once the pressure crosses 140/89, the hypertension may cause a stroke or get the valves blocked. Simultaneously, a pressure below 90/60 is considered low blood pressure and may be because of a chronic condition like diabetes.

Final Thoughts

When patients come in for a checkup, you have an essential duty to ensure their vital signs get checked. The purpose of these signs is to inform you of the patient’s condition and showcase any underlying conditions. The primary checkups include measuring the respiration rate, the body temperature, pulse rate, and blood pressure.