Vital Signs: Basic Physical Exam Terminology

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Systemic Exam: Basic Physical Exam Terminology

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Vital Signs
  • 0:56 Temperature
  • 2:40 Pulse
  • 3:38 Respiration
  • 4:25 Blood Pressure
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson will cover the terms that are most commonly associated with taking vital signs as part of a basic physical exam. We will look at the normal ranges for vital signs and discuss the terms for abnormal vital signs.

Vital Signs

It is time for your yearly physical exam. You are reflecting over everything that you have done with and to your body over the last year since your last physical exam. For the first time, you are really starting to think about what your doctor is doing during your physical exam. Some things are obvious, but others don't really make sense to you. You are even thinking about some of the things the nurse or medical assistant does before you see the doctor.

Your name is called for you to start your exam. The assistant greets you with a smile and lets you know it's time to take your vital signs. You have heard this year after year and never bothered to ask what vital signs are. These are the indicators that you are, in fact, alive. The four vital signs are temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure. We are going to look at each one of these individually.


You are already quite acquainted with temperature in many different areas of your life. Temperature is the measurement of heat and abbreviated as T when used in medical facilities. In the winter, you become very aware of the lack of heat, and in the summer, you become very aware of the extra heat. I'm sure you have a range of temperatures where you are the most comfortable and wish it would stay that way all the time.

The same is true in your body! Your body works best when your internal temperature is 98.6 degrees F. Your temperature is measured using a thermometer and may be taken in the mouth, rectum, under the arm, in the ear or on forehead. There are times when the temperature in your environment doesn't stay the same within your desired range and the same is true within the body.

If the temperature in your body gets too high, you may experience hyperthermia. This is an abnormally high body temperature. This can be caused by many things, including higher outside temperatures, certain medications and if you lose the ability to sweat. It can become a medical emergency if your body temperature reaches over 103 degrees F.

The opposite may also happen where the body's temperature falls below normal, which is known as hypothermia. This can happen as a result of being exposed to really low outside temperatures, being in cold water, experiencing shock and for many other reasons. This can also become a medical emergency if the body's temperature stays below normal for too long. So, remember that your body prefers a hot and humid 98.6 degrees F!


The next sign that you are alive is your pulse, which directly reflects your heartbeats and heart rhythm. You heart must be beating in order to keep you alive. Every time your heart beats, blood is pushed through the arteries and creates the pulse. Pulse is measured for a full minute, most commonly on the inside of the wrist, the neck or the inside of the elbow. The normal range for pulse is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Certain medications, medical conditions and excitement may cause you to experience tachycardia, which is a rapid heartbeat. If your pulse measures above 100 beats per minute, then you are experiencing tachycardia.

On the other hand, you may experience a slow heartbeat, which we call bradycardia. In this instance, your pulse will measure below 60 beats per minute, and it may happen as a result of certain medications, arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm) and aging.


Our next sign of life is that you are breathing, also known as respiration. Inhalation followed by exhalation is considered to be one breath or cycle of respiration. Normal respiration is between 12 to 16 breaths per minute while at rest. During your office visit, the medical assistant measures your respiration by counting the rise and fall of the chest for a minute.

If you are taking certain medicines or illegal drugs, have a fever or have certain medical conditions, you could experience a higher than normal respiration, which is called tachypnea. Other medical conditions and medications may cause you to have a lower than normal respiration, which is called bradypnea.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account