Understanding Your Vitals

vital_signs_monitorHave you ever wondered what the numbers mean?

When you go through medical misfortune or adventure (depending on if you are a half-full / half-empty person), then it is important to also educate yourself about how your body should be behaving.

Having this understanding will furthermore help you maintain and control your anxiety levels, as anxiety can (and will) have a negative impact on your wellbeing.

During my early days of my heart challenges, I quickly learned that I need to keep a close eye on my vitals and that it should not be something you do only when you feel bad.

  • I had never measured my blood pressure
  • I had never measured my heartbeat (BPM)
  • I had never used an oximeter

Heck, I didn’t even know my blood type!

I did know where to find my pulse, by the wrist, but not what it actually meant.

So, when I was visiting my cardiologist, the day he admitted me, I couldn’t answer any of his questions regarding my vitals.  I honestly didn’t know that having a BPM of 150 when sitting in a chair calmly was bad.

BPM … Heart Rate … Pulse … blood pressure

What are these items anyway, and why do you need to know about them?  What is normal?

Pulse Oximeter

finger-pulse-oximeterThe pulse oximeter is an electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in your red blood cells.  It is normally attached to your finger, like a little clamp, and is uses a cold light source that shines a light through the fingertip, making the tip appear to be red.  By analyzing the light from the light source that passes through the finger, the device is able to determine the percentage of oxygen in the red blood cell.

The number on the display reflects the saturation of your red blood cells with oxygen.  A good number would be over 90-92%.  Anything less and you need to get more oxygen t your blood and you need to seek medical attention.

Blood Pressure

qardio-armThere are two numbers when doctors measure your blood pressure.  While both are important and will give you some indications as to how you are doing, I normally only focuses on the first number.

Blood pressure is measured using a cuff and can be done at home as well as by the doctor.  I will share another post soon about how to best measure blood pressure at home, as if you are doing it slightly wrong, it can skew the numbers.

Please note, anxiety can and will impact your blood pressure,

Systolic number

This is measured when your heartbeats.  It squeezes and pushes blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on those blood vessels, and that’s your systolic blood pressure.

Normal systolic pressure is below 120, although doctors seem to worry more if the number is above 140 for longer periods.

Diastolic number

This is the second or the bottom number and is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. This is also the time when the heart fills with blood and gets oxygen.

Normal diastolic pressure is below 80


If you have questions or concerns about your blood pressure, always seek medical advice from your doctor.

I use the QardioArm device at home, and it tracks my history.

Heart Beat aka BPM

heartmonitorLet’s get straight to the point, a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.  If you are sitting in a chair, and your rate is within that range, it is considered normal.

But, as each person is different, your resting BPM might differ from that of your spouse, and you cannot compare these and determine one is worse than the other.

Generally, a lower heart rate when resting may imply that your heart is more efficient and has a better level of cardiovascular fitness.

Some athletes may even have as low as 40 BPM, but if you are not a trained athlete and experience lower heart rates that can also imply other cardio challenges.  If you encounter such readings for a longer period of time, then consult your cardiologist.

Many times it may be a result of a medication or perhaps a kidney infection, and then it is ok.  But if you are unsure and nervous, then contact cardiologist.

There are many factors that can influence your heart rate such as

  • Age
  • Your fitness and activity levels
  • If you are a smoker
  • Air temperature
  • Body position (standing up or lying down, for example)
  • Emotions
  • Body size and weight (e.g. obesity)
  • Medications

I invested in both a Fitbit and Apple Watch, and both devices track my BPM.

Consult your doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 BPM as that may indicate tachycardia or if you’re not a trained athlete and your resting heart rate is below 60 BPM as that might indicate bradycardia.

A cardiologist can assist with both of course, and give you a much better diagnosis or insights.

Symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath = visit cardiologist

I hope this short post helped you get a better understanding of some of these values, and I would encourage you to track these regularly.  Perhaps even buy some of these devices for home use, to help you keep track.

I wrote a post about some medical gadgets that I bought, and would certainly recommend reading that review.

Have a great day!

Leave a Reply