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What Are Normal Vital Signs?

A stethoscope, which can be used to take vital signs.
A vital signs monitor.
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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2014
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Normal vital signs for an adult are 12-20 respirations per minute at rest; a blood pressure of 120/80; a pulse at rest of 60-100 beats per minute; pupils that are midpoint, equal in size and reactive to light; and skin that is warm, dry and pink in fair-skinned people. The normal vital signs for children are 15-30 respirations per minute, a blood pressure that is 80 plus twice their age in years and a diastolic pressure of approximately two-thirds of their systolic pressure. Their pulse should be 70-140 beats, and what is normal for adults when checking the skin and pupils is also normal for children. Normal vital signs for newborns vary slightly. For example, they should breathe 30-50 times per minute and should have a pulse of 120-160 beats per minute.

Outward verifications of what should be going on inside the body if there is no immediate threat to life is the definition of normal vital signs. Those signs include respiration, blood pressure, pupils and pulse as well as the color, temperature and condition of the skin. There are variations in what are considered normal vital signs, but the variations are slight and fall within general ranges established and used in emergency medical services (EMS) systems internationally.

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Normal vital signs change slightly when speaking in very specific terms. For example, respirations of 15-30 per minute at rest is normal for children who are 6-10 years old. Infants who are 5 months old or younger, however, breathe 25-40 times per minute.

Healthcare providers always take what is known as a set of vital signs, commonly called simply "vitals," during patient assessment and ongoing care to know what is going on inside a patient. Taking vital signs is of extreme importance in emergency medicine because emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics use them to help rapidly detect life-threatening problems that require intervention and immediate transportation to a medical facility.

Vital signs can be taken using medical equipment or manually. Skin temperature, color and condition are discovered by visual inspection and palpation. Pupils are examined with the aid of a pen light, and respirations can be counted manually or by a machine. A patient's pulse and blood pressure also can be taken manually or by a machine. If the blood pressure is taken manually, a device called a sphygmomanometer is used without a stethoscope.

The use of a stethoscope enables the capture of diastolic pressure as well as systolic pressure, which is the only reading that can be taken when not using a stethoscope. When a stethoscope is not used, it is called blood pressure by palpation, more commonly known as "BP by palp." Although the condition and reactivity of the pupils are vital signs, they are not always examined unless there is suspicion of head injury or drug use or if the patient has suffered severe trauma.

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