At some point in the last year, hopefully, you have made a visit with your doctor’s office. We might think, if I am not sick, I do not have to go. However, a yearly physical, or well check, can be a great way to get baseline information in your 20s and 30s and serve as a checkpoint to try to catch any early warning signs.
Why do we take vital signs?
Keeping track of some of these measures at every single visit allows us to monitor and identify significant changes. It is a good preventative health measure to assess some of your body’s basic functions. Even small deviations can be indicative of something more going on that will require further testing.
Pulse Oximeter (Oxygen Levels and Heart Rate)
A pulse oximeter is a small device often used on a fingertip to measure oxygen saturation of the blood and pulse rate (or heart rate). It is a great way to get a measure of the blood without having to draw blood. We can tell how much oxygen is circulating and how the associated pulse rate is traveling through the body.
The oxygen saturation levels are often displayed as SpO2 and is provided as a percentage. Normal values of oxygen saturation will be between 95%-100%.
Pulse rate is a measurement of heart beats per minute. Healthy adults should generally have a resting pulse rate between 60-100 bpm.
Body temperature is not a constant measure of 98.6 degrees. Body temperature can be dependent on several factors like time of day, recent activity, gender, food and fluid intake, among other factors. Normal body temperature ranges between about 97.8-99 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not unusual during a cold or bout of illness to see a higher body temperature. Again, having this consistent measure can be helpful, especially when recognizing the definition of a fever is one degree or more over your normal body temperature.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the arterial walls based on the contraction and relaxation of the ventricles of the heart. A blood pressure reading identifies two numbers, the top number being systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number being diastolic blood pressure. The systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the ventricles are contracting, and the diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the ventricles are relaxed and filling with blood. For a normal reading we are looking to see 120/80 or below – a systolic of 120 or less, and diastolic of 80 or less. A single blood pressure reading is not the determinant of hypertension (high blood pressure). These numbers are a guide, and with regular visits and strong consistency between readings, one reading may be out of the ordinary. However, being able to catch blood pressure increasing may allow for more regular checks and earlier intervention for diagnosis and medication.
Is weight the only indicator of health – no. Can weight be a valuable piece of information in determining health status – yes. I do not like to put a lot of emphasis on weight, as there are many ways and ranges to be healthy. With the regular weight measurement at a doctor’s visit, we can again identify baselines and trends. Our clothes may be feeling different, and we think we have gained 30 pounds, however the scale says only 10 lbs. There are other instances of dramatic weight gain or weight loss that are early warning signs of something more serious going on. So, a weight at the doctor’s office is not meant to be a judgement, and many will allow you to not look at the number or share it with you if you do not want it. With weight being dependent on a lot of other factors like height for BMI measures, or amount of lean mass versus fat mass, there is no expected norm. Take this as a good measure to aim for consistency in readings for weight maintenance, or if trying to gain or lose weight measure the progress.
Cholesterol is often characterized as a waxy fat or lipid substance that circulates through your blood. You body makes cholesterol naturally, but you can also get it from animal food sources. We often focus on the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. LDL allows for more fatty build up on the arterial walls, making them narrower and causing build-ups or blockages to the artery. HDL helps to remove and carry away some of those LDL cholesterol deposits. For most accurate readings, it is best to be fasted for nine to 12 hours before the blood draw.
For men aged 20 years and older, we are looking to see total cholesterol between 125-200 mg/dL, with LDL less than 130 mg/dL, and HDL greater than or equal to 40 mg/dL.
For women aged 20 years and older, we are looking to see total cholesterol between 125-200 mg/dL, with LDL less than 130 mg/dL, and HDL greater than or equal to 50 mg/dL.
Blood glucose is the body’s main source of energy, and being carried in the blood stream is how it gets to all the working areas of the body. A blood glucose test will measure those levels of circulating blood glucose to help is identify normal ranges, or high or low ranges that will require further attention.
Normal blood glucose levels, with again being fasted, should range within 70-99 mg/dL. Those over 100 mg/dL could indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Get your well-visit every year
They might seem like small or insignificant steps, especially if we are not feeling unwell to begin with, but regular check ups and vital sign measurements at every visit are a great assessment of overall well-being. They help to prevent misdiagnosis, detect underlying health concerns, and serve to show us if and when some modifications to lifestyle are needed when ranges deviate from normal.
Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website