Are you ready to get you learning on about the Vital Signs that all Respiratory Therapists must know? I sure hope so because that is what this study guide is all about. 

As an RT, checking the vital signs of your patient is something that you will do hundreds of thousands — maybe even millions — of times throughout your career.

But which ones are you supposed to check? How often? What are the normal values?

Have no fear, my friend.

In this study guide, we are going to break it all down for you to make learning this information easy. So if you’re ready to get started, let’s go ahead and dive right in. 

What are Vital Signs?

Vital Signs are the body’s most commonly used measurements. That is because they provide useful information about the patient’s clinical condition and are easy (and fast) to obtain. 

The 5 primary vital signs are:

  • Pulse Rate (Heart Rate)
  • Respiratory Rate (Breathing Rate)
  • Oxygen Saturation
  • Blood Pressure
  • Body Temperature

As you already know, vital signs are crucially important to know and understand.

For example, let’s say you have a patient that is showing a decrease in respiratory rate and heart rate. As a Respiratory Therapist, one of your first thoughts is to provide oxygen for this patient. Let’s say you do, and almost immediately the patient’s status improves. You can recognize this thanks to their vital signs.

As a Respiratory Therapist, you will mostly be concerned with the patient’s pulse, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation.

That’s not to say the others aren’t equally as important. In fact, they definitely are — which is why we have included them in this study guide as well. But in the clinical setting, they are most often taken by the nurse or other professional. Still, you are required to know about ALL of the major vital signs. And we are going to cover them below. Let’s get started!

Practice Questions about Vital Signs:

1. What are the most common Vital Signs?
Pulse Rate, Respiratory Rate, Blood Pressure, Body Temperature, and Oxygen Saturation.

2. What is the normal pulse rate?
60–100 beats/minute.

3. Where can you find the pulse?
The radial, brachial, femoral, and carotid arteries.

4. What is the normal respiratory rate?
12–20 breaths/minute.

5. What is the normal Blood Pressure?

6. What is the normal body temperature?
Oral: 97.7–99.5 F (36.5–37.5 C); Axillary: 96.7–98.5 F (35.9–36.9 C); Rectal or ear: 98.7–100.5 F (37.1–38.1 C).

7. What is the normal Oxygen Saturation?
95–99% or greater than 93%.

8. What is the normal Heart Rate?

9. A low oxygen saturation is a good indicator of what?

10. What are complications with pulse oximeters?
Low perfusion, incorrectly fitted probe, the vascular bed is not pulsating dark fingernails, or the light is unable to pass through.

11. What is the accuracy range on a pulse oximeter?
+ or – 4%

12. What is the heart rate for someone who is bradycardic?
Less than 60 beats per minute.

13. What is the respiratory rate for someone who is tachypneic?
Greater than 20 breaths per minute.

14. What is the blood pressure for someone with hypotension?
Less than 90/60.

15. What is the breathing rate of someone who is apneustic?
Long gasping inspirations with insufficient expiration.

16. What are the primary causes of eupnea?
The normal physiology of being a human being.

17. Identify the following breathing pattern: Fast and deep breaths with periods of apnea and no set rhythm.
Biot’s breathing.

18. Which breathing pattern is normal in newborns and elderly, but abnormal for healthy adults?

19. What is a major tool in finding vital signs?
Stethoscope, especially for Respiratory Therapists.

20. What possible causes is Kussmaul’s breathing an indicator of?
DKA, severe hemorrhage, peritonitis, renal failure, and uremia.

21. What is normally the heart rate for a newborn?
90–180 beats per minute.

22. If a patient’s heart rate is greater than 100 beats/minute, you would say the patient is?

23. What is DKA?
It stands for Diabetic Ketoacidosis. A shortage of insulin which causes the body to burn fatty acids and produce acidic ketone bodies.

24. The pulse rate and rhythm can be measured by what?
It can be measured by auscultation or palpation of any artery.

25. What arteries can be used for the pulse to be checked?
Radial Artery, Brachial Artery, Femoral Artery, Carotid Artery, and Pedal.

26. Which artery is most commonly used to check for a pulse?
Radial Artery

27. How is pulse calculated?
The pulse is counted for 15 seconds and multiplied by 4 to get beats/minute.

28. How is respiratory rate measured?
By inspection of the movement of the chest for 1 minute.

29. What is the normal blood pressure for adults?

30. What is used to measure blood pressure?

31. What are the ways that the body temperature can be measured?
Orally, rectally, and axillary.

32. What is the normal body temperature?
37 degrees Celsius ( 97 degrees F).

33. What is fever?
A higher than normal body temperature (hyperthermia).

34. What is the normal pulse rate for an adult?
60–100 beats/minute.

35. What does pulse oximetry estimate?
It noninvasively estimates the hemoglobin oxygen saturation of arterial blood.

36. What factors affect the accuracy of pulse oximetry reading?
Movement, bright light, extreme cold, extreme darkness, and high methemoglobin.

37. What would you call a respiratory rate less than 12?

38. What would you call a respiratory rate greater than 20?

39. What would you call a heart rate less than 60?

40. What would you call a heart rate greater than 100?

41. What is hypotension?
A blood pressure less than 90/60.

42. What is hypertension?
A blood pressure greater than 140/90.

43. What is the normal newborn pulse?

44. What is the normal 1-year-old pulse?

45. What is the normal preschool-age kid pulse?

46. What is the normal 10-year-old pulse?

47. What is the normal adult pulse?

48. What is the systolic blood pressure?
The top number which measures the pressure in the artery when the heart beats.

49. What is the diastolic blood pressure?
The bottom number that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is resting.

50. How is the strength (amplitude) of a pulse measured on a scale?
4–bounding, 3–full, 2–normal, 1–diminished, and 0–absent.

51. What is bradycardia?
A slower than normal heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute.

52. What is tachycardia?
A faster than normal heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute.

53. What is hypotension?
Low blood pressure, which can cause dizziness or fainting (Less than 90/60).

54. What is hypertension?
High blood pressure, which can cause heart disease (Greater than 140/90).

55. What is eupnea?
A normal respiratory rate (12-20 breaths per minute), normal rhythm. Causes: normal physiology.

56. What is apnea?
The absence of breathing. Causes: respiratory or cardiac arrest and an increased intracranial pressure.

57. What are the types of pulse oximetry probes?
Finger probe, foot probe, toe probe, forehead probe, and ear probe.

58. Can cool or heated aerosols affect a body temperature reading?
Yes, yes they absolutely can.

Final Thoughts

And that wraps up our study guide on the vital signs that you must know as a Respiratory Therapist. I hope this information was helpful for you. And, I hope you can use it to make your life easier when it comes to learning and memorizing all the vital signs.

And keep in mind, this information is crucial for you to know. Not only as a licensed Respiratory Therapist in practice but also as a student as well. Because I can promise you that the NBRC will ask you about them on the board exams.

If you want more help preparing for the TMC Exam — definitely check out our TMC Study Guide. Many students have already used it to pass the exam on their first attempt. Are you next?

Thanks again for reading and as always — breathe easy, my friend.

The information in this study guide provided by Respiratory Therapy Zone is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 01/04/2019