When you visit your doctor, you almost always have your vital signs measured. Your doctor will typically check your blood pressure, weight, pulse and temperature and, sometimes, your breathing rate. But you probably don’t measure most of these vital signs regularly at home. Keeping track of them is a smart step toward monitoring your health, though.
You can share your numbers with your health care provider at your routine wellness visit. And if you’re not feeling well or you notice changes, you can talk to your provider about what you’ve noticed.
Blood pressure monitors are easy to use, inexpensive and available at grocery stores, pharmacies and online retailers. If you have high blood pressure, monitoring it between doctor’s visits can help you see whether your treatments or medications are working well. Home blood pressure monitors can also help rule out “white-coat hypertension,” or high blood pressure readings due to anxiety at the doctor’s office.
It’s important to note, that although at-home blood pressure monitors are easy to use, there are some important guidelines to follow to ensure a consistent and accurate reading. So, make sure to read all accompanying instructions before taking your measurement.
You can use an at-home digital scale to monitor your weight, whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain. For accurate results, you should always weigh yourself on the same scale at the same time of day. “It is normal for your body to fluctuate two to three pounds throughout the day—a scale can help you learn your body’s normal weight and fluctuations,” Dr. Pero said. Weigh yourself weekly or twice a month and track your results so you’ll recognize any abnormal weight loss or gain. Sudden, unintentional changes in your weight can be signs of an underlying health condition.
Pulse oximeters are designed to measure the oxygen level in your blood, but they’re great tools for measuring your pulse as well. They clip onto your finger and give you a reading in a few seconds. They are inexpensive, easy to use and available at stores and online retailers. “Accurately recording your heart rate will give you a head start on detecting changes. You can relay measurements to your provider that seem different from what is normal for you,” Dr. Pero said.
You can use an inexpensive home thermometer to measure your body temperature. Your temperature can rise if you are sick, or if you are taking medication that can trigger a rise. With a home thermometer, you can get important information quickly without visiting your health care provider.
There are many different types of thermometers—mercury (oral, anal or under the arm), digital (oral), tympanic (digital ear), temporal (forehead), app-based, and even pacifier thermometers for babies. Not sure which one you should choose? Discuss with your pharmacist or health care provider to help determine which one is best for you and your family.
You don’t need any special equipment to measure your breathing rate. Just sit calmly in a chair or on your bed, relax and count the number of breaths you take in a minute. A normal rate is between 16 and 20 breaths per minute for adults. Your rate is considered abnormal if it falls below 12 or rises above 25 breaths per minute. Your breathing rate isn’t always monitored in routine check-ups, but your breath delivers oxygen to your body and removes carbon dioxide from your body. Abnormal rates can be a sign of a respiratory illness.
Your fitness tracker can help
“Many of us are monitoring these vital signs without realizing it,” Dr. Pero said. If you wear a fitness tracker, it may measure your pulse, oxygen saturation and respiratory rate. If you sync it with a scale, it can track your weight as well. The app that pairs with your tracker can save your information.
The bottom line
Tracking five key vital signs at home can help you spot early signs of possible health problems. If you notice any changes, you can talk to your health care provider. If you would like to connect with a doctor who can help you monitor your vital signs, reach out to Banner Health.