The Importance Of Good Vital Signs

By Shawna Wetzel, RN and Sydney Running, MA

Though hopefully it doesn’t happen often, sometimes it is necessary to bring your sick child or teen into a medical office for help. 

Once you’ve checked in, the first step in a thorough visit is getting an accurate set of vital signs.  This includes things like your child’s height or weight, temperature, blood oxygen level, heart rate (how fast the heart is beating), respiratory rate (number of breaths in a minute), and/or blood pressure.

A good set of vital signs gives the provider a baseline with which to begin helping your child feel better.  At Pacific Crest Children’s Urgent Care, nurses and medical assistants like us are specially trained to take accurate, child friendly vital signs with a minimum of discomfort and distress to your little one.

Photo Credit:  Pixabay

Photo Credit:  Pixabay

Typically, the first vital sign we get will be your child’s height and weight. This will help the provider prescribe the correct amount of medicine if necessary, as many child or infant medicines are dosed by weight. If you bring a very small baby in, we might measure head size as well.

Another important vital sign is your child’s temperature.  This can give clues as to whether or not there is an infection that might be the cause of your child’s illness. Depending on your kiddo’s age or size, we most commonly take a temperature orally (in the mouth, under the tongue), or axillary (under the arm).  If you want more information on what to do if your child has a fever, Dr. Fish has an excellent article in PDX’s Parent’s November 2017 issue (

In the case of an illness with lung symptoms, we will place a sensor with a glowing, red “magic” light on your child’s finger (or toe, if they’re very small).  This sensor, called a pulse oximeter, detects heart rate and the percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood. Lowered blood oxygen levels can indicate a problem with the lungs or heart.

Some diseases can cause a change in the respiratory (breathing) rate a child might have; by collecting this data point, we are able to see if your child has labored breathing, or a quicker or slower respiratory rate than expected. 

At times, measuring the blood pressure of your child may be on the list of vitals to collect—we use a blood pressure cuff that gives the arm a “hug,” allowing us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s condition or baseline.  An important part of an accurate blood pressure is making sure that we use the right size device for your child.


While it might seem like there are a lot of steps involved, they are all important in aiding us to accurately diagnose your child’s illness and make them feel better.  At Pacific Crest Children’s we pride ourselves in being efficient with these steps while simultaneously making your child as comfortable as possible.  We strive for short wait times, accuracy, and providing compassionate care.  We hope you don’t need us but we are there in case you do!


Some Normal Vital Sign References by Age

Heart Rate

0-3mo—80-205 beats per minute

3mo-2yo—75-190 beats per minute

2yo-10yo—60-140 beats per minute

>10yo—60-100 beats per minute

Respiratory Rate

Infant—30-60 breaths per minute

Toddler—24-40 breaths per minute

Preschooler—22-34 breaths per minute

School-age child—18-30 breaths per minute

Adolescent—12-16 breaths per minute

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