Taking vital signs on every patient visit can be vital to the health of your patient. Vital signs include body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate. Additional vital statistics that may be of use to identify a predisposition to a disease or disorder and that assist with proper dosing of medication include weight and height. Vital signs give you a baseline when a patient is healthy to compare to the patient’s condition when they aren’t healthy. Abnormalities in vitals can also be a clue to illness or disease that can be hurting the organ systems in the patient’s body.
Vital Sign #1: Body Temperature
A body temperature range must be kept for the body to function properly. Body temperature should not only be taken if a patient has a fever, but a baseline should be set for future appointments to catch abnormalities. The medical assistant must also become familiar with proper procedure to take body temperature during a patient’s appointment, how the body regulates temperature with heat production, heat loss, body temperature conditions and body temperature influencers. The normal human body temperature ranges from 97 degrees to 99 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are five places on the body that a medical assistant can take the body’s temperature, they include the mouth, axilla, rectum, ear and forehead. The part of the body is chosen based on age, condition, and state of consciousness.
Heat is produced in the body when nutrients are broken down in the cells. Heat can be produced by contraction of the muscles, during digestion, when shivering or from fever. Heat is lost from the body in urine, feces, water vapor from the lungs and perspiration. There are three different types of heat loss, they include radiation, conduction, convection and evaporation.
High temperatures in the body can indicate disease or illness. A fever is a body temperature greater than 100.4 degrees. Hyperpyrexia is a body temperature greater than 105.8 degrees. A body temperature greater than 109.4 degrees is fatal. Hypothermia is a body temperature less than 97 degrees Fahrenheit. The body usually can’t survive with a temperature lower than 93.2 degrees.
The medical assistant should consider the following factors while taking a patient’s body temperature, they include age, diurnal variations, emotional states, environment, exercise, and pregnancy.
Vital Sign #2: Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of the blood in an artery as it is forced against the artery walls. The highest level during contraction is recorded as the systolic pressure. As the heart pauses briefly to rest and refill, the arterial pressure drops. This drop is recorded as the diastolic pressure. The medical assistant takes this vital sign with a blood pressure cuff, the blood pressure is written as a fraction. The systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure. A healthy blood pressure is 120/80, any higher and the patient may have hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure with excessive pressure on the walls of the arteries and a reading higher than 140/90. Hypotension is low blood pressure with reduced pressure on the walls of the arteries and a reading lower than 95/60.
A medical assistant should consider certain factors that can increase or decrease blood pressure when taking vital signs. These factors include age, gender, diurnal variations, emotional states, exercise, body position and medication taken.
Vital Sign #3: Heart Rate
The pulse is created by the heart contracting and forcing blood into the heart’s aorta. The aorta must expand because it already has blood and must make room for the new blood. This creates a pulse wave through the walls of the arterial system. The heart rate is measured by counting the number of pulses per minute (bpm). The medical assistant must be familiar with how to assess readings of the patient’s heart rate. The types of pulse a medical assistant must master include radial pulse, apical pulse, brachial pulse, ulnar pulse, temporal pulse, carotid, femoral pulse, popliteal pulse, posterior tibial pulse and dorsalis pedis pulse.
A pulse rate evaluation is used to establish the patient’s baseline pulse. Pulse should be taken by the medical assistant with moderate pressure using the three middle fingers. Pulse rate is the number of heart beats that occur in 1 minute. The normal resting pulse rate, in a healthy adult, ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Pulse rhythm indicates the time interval between heart beats. A normal rhythm has a consistent time interval between heart beats. Pulse volume is the strength of the heartbeat.
Pulse rate can vary based on different factors. The medical assistant should consider the following factors when taking pulse rate including age, gender, physical activity, emotional state, metabolism, fever, air temperature, body size and medications taken.
Vital Sign #4: Respiration Rate
The purpose of respiration is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The assessment should be done without the patients’ knowledge as they may change the rate if they know they are being tested. During inhalation the lungs expand with oxygen. As the lungs exhale carbon dioxide is removed from the body. A normal healthy adult will breathe in and out 12 to 20 times per minute. Respiration rhythm should be even and regular with equal pauses between inhaling and exhaling.
Respiration depth is described as normal, deep or shallow based on the movement of the chest. Normal depth is described as the baseline respiration depth. Deep respiration involves an increased amount of air inhaled. Shallow respiration involves a slow exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Hyperpnea is an abnormal increase in the rate and depth of respiration. Hyperpnea can be caused simply by exercise but can also be a sign of problems if at rest. Hyperventilation is abnormally fast and deep breathing, typically associated with acute anxiety and may be supplemented by dizziness and weakness. Hypopnea is an abnormal decrease in rate and depth approximately half of baseline respiration rate. Hypopnea can be found primarily with sleep disorders.
Many factors can affect the normal respiration rate in healthy adults, they include age, physical activity, emotional state, fever and medications taken.
Additional Vital Statistics
Vital Sign #5: Weight – Accurate weight is important for patients and weight monitoring may be required if the patient is taking any medication. It can also be important for a patient that is trying to gain or lose weight. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Vital Sign #6: Height – can be an important vital sign for growing children, young adults and the elderly. A medical assistant can measure a patient’s height by using the movable ruler on the back of most balance beam scales.
Are you ready to learn more about taking vital signs as a medical assistant? Meridian College offers hands–on Medical Assistant training from experienced school faculty who know how to prepare you for the daily challenges you’ll face on the job. From assisting doctors with patients to important administrative tasks, our experienced Medical Assistant program teachers will train you for a rewarding new career.
Contact Meridian College today to learn more about becoming a medical assistant.