Measuring Vital Signs

Vital signs give important information about basic body functions blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and temperature. Information about vital signs may be very helpful when communicating with a physician about an ill individual. When measuring vital signs, be sure to write down the results.

Heart rate (pulse rate):

  • Put your index and middle finger over the underside of the wrist, below the base of the thumb.
  • Press firmly with flat fingers until you feel the pulse (do not use your thumb to measure the pulse).
  • While watching a clock, count the beats for one full minute or for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This is the heart rate.

Normal pulse or heart rate:

  • Infants younger than 1 year 100 to 160 beats per minute
  • Children 1 to 10 years 70 to 120 beats per minute
  • Children older than 10 years to adults 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • Well-trained athletes 40 to 60 beats per minute

Blood pressure:

  • Use an automated blood pressure monitor, if you have one. If possible, take it to your doctor's office or pharmacy to have it checked for accuracy. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for storage and use.

Breathing rate:

•  Have the person lie down.

•  Count how many times the chest rises for one full minute. This is the breathing rate.

Normal resting breathing rate, by age:

  • Newborns 44 breaths per minute
  • Infants 20 to 40 breaths per minute
  • Preschool children 20 to 30 breaths per minute
  • Older children 16 to 25 breaths per minute
  • Adults 14 to 18 breaths per minute
  • Older adults 19 to 26 breaths per minute


  • Can be taken from different parts of the body: mouth, rectum, ear or arm pit.
  • Follow directions for your thermometer.
  • Clean after each use.
  • Use different thermometers for each person, if possible.
  • See Thermometers and Fever Healthbeat for additional information on taking a temperature.

Normal body temperatures:

Normal body temperatures vary from person to person. Body temperature is usually lowest in the morning and highest later in the day.

Average body temperature from each body site:

  • Oral (by mouth): 98.6 F (37 C)
  • Rectal (in the rectum): 99.6 F (37.5 C)
  • Ear: 99.6 F   (37.5 C)
  • Axillary (in the arm pit, usually the least accurate): 97.6 F (36 C)

idph online home
Health Fact Sheets

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
Questions or Comments