You’ve likely heard about the ideal vital signs–heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, etc. for someone your age and build–but may not know how to keep track of these signs yourself. Some require equipment not everyone has. However, your pulse and temperature are easy to measure at home between doctor visits.
A change in your vital signs can indicate an underlying problem that your doctor can help you with. However, you’ll likely never notice a change unless you regularly keep track of your vital signs yourself. Let’s look at how to keep track of the two easiest vital signs to monitor: your heart rate and body temperature.
When to Check Your Vitals
If you feel a fever coming on, you likely reach for the thermometer to double-check. But that’s not the only time to keep an eye on your body temperature. No one stays at 98.6 degrees all the time, after all. A healthy resting body temperature can fall anywhere between 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit, with 98.6 simply being the average. A rise in temperature above about 100.4 indicates a fever, while a drop below 97 can indicate sickness or simply an uncomfortably cold environment. Knowing your typical temperature will let you know quickly when something’s wrong.
Likewise, checking your heart rate tells allows you to determine how quickly your heart beats when your body is at rest. The range here is more substantial, with normal pulse rates falling between 60-100 bpm. However, even within that range, a higher number can indicate a problem or increase the chances of complications. Knowing your resting heart rate gives you vital information.
Measuring Your Pulse
While it’s certainly possible (and potentially more accurate) to use special medical devices to take your pulse, it’s just as easy to do with your own fingers. Sit down and rest for several minutes prior to measuring to let your heart reach its resting rate, and make sure to measure at the same time every day. Once you’re relaxed, it’s time to measure.
Choose a blood vessel to monitor your pulse. You can use the carotid artery (located on the side of your neck just below the jawbone) or your radial artery (on the thumb side of your wristbone) to feel a distinct beat. Gently press your index and middle fingers against the artery until you feel a pulse. Don’t push too hard–you don’t want to obstruct blood flow and disrupt your measurement. Count the number of beats you feel in a full minute and take note of it. This is your resting heart rate.
Checking Your Temperature
You should always use a thermometer to take your temperature. While it’s easy to count the number of beats per minute in your pulse, estimating your temperature is far harder and significantly less likely to be accurate. Make sure to keep a reliable digital thermometer in your medicine kit.
At-home thermometers usually fall into one of several categories: ear thermometers, oral thermometers, armpit thermometers, and temporal artery thermometers, each with a slightly different method of use. For an oral thermometer, the kind you likely already have, the method is simple. Wait till at least half an hour after you’ve had anything to eat or drink to avoid affecting your temperature results. Turn the thermometer on and place the tip under your tongue. Close your mouth and lips completely over the thermometer and avoid talking until the thermometer beeps to indicate it’s done.
Ear thermometers and armpit thermometers are somewhat similar in how they’re used, though ear thermometers tend to be more accurate. In either case, turn on the thermometer and either insert it into your ear canal as instructed or place the tip in your armpit, ensuring it’s touching skin. Once the thermometer is in place, hold it firmly until it beeps and gives you a temperature reading.
The temporal artery thermometer involves the least physical contact out of any of these common thermometer models. Since they use an infrared light to measure temperature, contact with the skin is minimal. Turn the thermometer on and carefully move it across your forehead. (Some models may explicitly tell you to touch the skin or to keep a short distance away.) After that, your temperature reading is ready.
Monitoring Your Health
The key to preventive health is knowing the current condition of your body. Is your temperature in a safe range? Does your heart beat at a normal pace or at a concerning level? How do you feel on a typical day? Keep yourself and your doctor informed of your “normals” so you can quickly identify a problem.
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