Normal Vital Signs

Nursing Knowledge

Normal Vital Signs

Vital signs are one of the most important tools to assess a patient’s baseline health and to detect changes in their condition. Taking vital signs as well as correctly interpreting them and recognizing warning signs is a fundamental nursing skill. Review the summary below and download the printable vital signs Cheat Sheet!
Last updated: February 28, 2024

Table of contents

What are vital signs? 

Vital signs are measurements of the body’s basic functions. Usually, they include:

  • Heart rate (pulse)
  • Blood pressure 
  • Respiratory rate
  • Oxygen saturation
  • Temperature

What is the purpose of vital signs in nursing? 

Monitoring clients’ vital signs is a fundamental part of continuously evaluating their physical health. Changes in vital signs can give information about and indicate various changes in a client’s condition and guide the decisions about nursing interventions.

How to take vital signs

  • Heart rate: place fingers over pulse point (radial artery), count beats for 30 seconds and double for beats per minute; or apical pulse with the stethoscope for 60 seconds
  • Blood pressure: measured with blood pressure cuff and stethoscope 
  • Respiratory rate: observe the patient’s chest/breath without their awareness to avoid unnatural rates due to self-awareness
  • Oxygen saturation: pulse oximeter
  • Temperature: orally, rectally, axillary, or tympanic /temporal

When to take vital signs

Vital signs are taken frequently in clinical settings, for example:

  • On admission
  • In routine checkups
  • Before and after surgeries, procedures, medications
  • To monitor critical changes in emergency situations
  • Based on symptom changes (e.g., patient feeling faint)

What is a normal heart rate? 

The normal range for a resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. 

Common alterations include: 

  • Bradycardia, defined as less than 60 beats per minute
  • Tachycardia, defined as more than 100 beats per minute

What is the normal range for blood pressure? 

Ideal blood pressure values are less or equal to 120/80. 

Hypotension is noted with findings < 90/< 60 . Blood pressure that is too high is classified b the AHA 2023 stages as follows: 

  • 120–126/< 80: elevated blood pressure
  • 120–126/82–89: stage 1 hypertension
  • >= 140/ >= 90: stage 2 hypertension
  • > 180 and/or > 120: hypertensive crisis  

What is a normal respiratory rate? 

A healthy adult with a normal respiratory rate will take between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. 

  • Bradypnea, less than 12 breaths per minute
  • Tachypnea, more than 20 breaths per minute

What is the ideal oxygen saturation? 

Oxygen saturation should ideally be 95–100%. Oxygen saturation below 90% means the client is presenting with hypoxemia

What is a normal temperature for an adult? 

The ideal temperature for an adult depends on the mode of measuring: 

  • Oral: 98.6–99.5°F (37–37.5°C)
  • Temporal: 98.4–99.3°F (36.8–37.4°C)
  • Axillary: 97.7–99°F (36.5–37.2°C)
  • Rectal: 97.8–100.4°F (36.6–38°C)

The body becomes hypothermic when the temperature falls below 95°F (35°C). 

Fever is defined as follows: 

  • Oral: > 100°F/37.8°C
  • Temporal/Tympanic: > 100.4°F/37.8°C
  • Axillary: > 99°F/37.2°C
  • Rectal: > 100.4°F/38°C

Warning signs and symptoms 

When checking vital signs and evaluating a patient, there are signs and symptoms of alert to keep in mind that require further attention and intervention: 

Cardiovascular signs of alert

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diaphoresis
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Anxiety or confusion
  • Cyanosis
  • Pedal edema
  • Engorged, pulsating neck veins
  • Tachycardia
  • Tachypnea
  • High or low blood pressure

Respiratory signs of alert

  • Dyspnea
  • Nasal flaring
  • Grunting
  • Retractions
  • Diaphoresis
  • Anxiety, agitation
  • Cyanosis
  • Fatigue
  • Orthopnea
  • Tripod position
  • Tachycardia
  • Tachypnea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Abnormal lung sounds

Neurological signs of alert

  • Severe headache
  • Altered vision
  • Dizziness, loss of balance
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Numbness
  • Generalized or one-sided muscle weakness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness


Normal Vital Signs

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Nursing Cheat Sheet

Taking vital signs as well as correctly interpreting them and recognizing warning signs is a fundamental nursing skill.

Master the topic with a unique study combination of a concise summary paired with video lectures. 

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