What Are Normal Adult Vital Signs?

How to Measure Normal Adult Vital Signs

Patient consulting Doctor for breathing difficulties, Asthma
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If you are a person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or a caregiver who takes care of someone with this life-long condition, understanding normal adult vital signs is essential. Why? Because knowing what is normal will help you better understand what is abnormal and when to seek medical attention.

Remember, normal adult vital signs may vary according to age, gender, weight, exercise tolerance and physical conditioning.

The best way to get the most accurate guidelines for what's "normal" for yourself or your COPD patient, is to consult your health care provider.

Let's take a look at a quick reference guide to normal adult vital signs.

Checking Body Temperature

Body temperature is variable from person to person, based on age, activity and the time of day. It's typically lowest when you wake up and higher later in the day.

You can use a digital thermometer in the mouth, armpit or rectum. Use an infrared model for the ear. The Illinois Department of Public Health warns forehead thermometers are not reliable and glass ones contain the toxic chemical mercury.

  • Oral - The generally accepted average oral temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but normal may range from 97 to 99 degrees. A temperature of 100.4 degrees most often indicates an infection or illness.
  • Axillary - A normal armpit temperature is 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit. You will get the most accurate reading if you put the thermometer's tip in the center of a dry armpit, with the arm pressed against the body.
  • Rectal -  A normal rectal temperature is 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This method is recommended for kids under 4 years old. To avoid rectal perforation due to improper thermometer use, consult your health care provider for instructions.

Checking Respiration Rate

Your respiration rate is the number of breaths you take per minute.

Take this measurement when you, or the patient, are at rest. Use a timer and count the number of breaths per minute by watching the chest rise and fall.

  • The normal number of breaths per minute for an adult at rest is 12 - 16.

Checking the Pulse

Measure the heart rate by counting how many times your heart beats per minute or count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Feel for it with your index and middle finger on the side of the neck, the inside of the wrist or on the inside of the elbow. 

  • The normal pulse for an adult at rest is 60 - 100.

Checking Blood Pressure

Your health care provider can show you how to use a home blood pressure monitor to check systolic and diastolic pressure readings. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the guidelines for normal blood pressure for an adult at rest are:

  • A  normal reading for systolic pressure is less than 120 mm Hg
  • A normal reading for diastolic pressure is less than 80 mm Hg

Oxygen Saturation Level

Have your health provider show you how to use a non-invasive, at-home pulse oximetry device to measure arterial oxygen saturation. 

  • The normal rate of oxygen saturation is 95 to 100 percent.

Keep in mind that most people with COPD can function just fine on saturation levels as low as 90%.

Be sure to ask your doctor at which level she wants your oxygen saturation.


Illinois Department of Public Health: Thermometers and Fever

John Hopkins Medicine: Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure)

Medline Plus: Body Temperature Norms (2015)

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