Vital signs

Medical Specialties: Emergency medicine, Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Vital signs are measurements of the body's basic functions, taken to evaluate the general physical health of a person, track progress during treatment or offer information about possible disease states. The four main vital signs are blood pressure, body temperature, pulse (or heart rate) and respiration (breathing rate).

In Our Own Words

Vital signs are measurements that provide indications of general health and how well the body is functioning. The four main vital signs are blood pressure, body temperature, your pulse (or heart rate) and also breathing rate.

Measurements are then compared to what is within the normal range for healthy adults:

  1. Body temperature. Normal can range from 97.8 to 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit or even slightly higher.
  2. Blood pressure. At or less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury. 
  3. Pulse rate. For a healthy adult, 60 to 80 beats a minute is considered a normal range at rest. A too-rapid pulse might indicate problems such as a heart condition or emphysema.
  4. Normal respiration rate is 12 to 20 breaths a minute, at rest. Certain conditions, including heart failure, lung disease and asthma, can make this vital sign abnormal. 
Relevant Conditions
Common Types
Share this article
  • Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms" 2013. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC’s “Vital Signs” special issue. Aug. 2013. Accessed Sept. 2013.
  • The Cleveland Clinic. "Vital Signs." Disease Prevention & Early Detection. Dec. 2010. Accessed Aug. 2013.
Keep Reading

Investigate your bodys signs and signals.
Try Symptom Checker