Vital Signs: General Terminology

Vital Signs: General Terminology

Afebrile – Without fever; apyretic

Antipyretic – Reducing fever; ; an agent that reduces fever

Apex – The pointed extremity of the conical structure

Arteriosclerosis – A disease of the arterial vessels marked by thickening, hardening, and loos of elasticity in the arterial walls

Atherosclerosis – The most common form of arteriosclerosis, marked by cholesterol-lipid-calcium deposits in the walls of arteries that may restrict blood flow

Atrial – Pertaining to the atrium

Autoregulation – Control of an event such as blood flow through a tissue by alteration of the tissue

Axilla – Armpit

Blood pressure: ausculatory gap, Korotkoff’s sounds, pulse pressure, systolic/diastolic


Costal (thoracic) – is a physical speaking strategy intended to prevent and manage stuttering

Diaphragmatic (abdominal) – breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. Air enters the lungs and the belly expands during this type of breathing.


Biot – is an abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by groups of quick, shallow inspirations followed by regular or irregular periods of apnea

Cheyne-stoke – Breathing pattern marked by a period of apnea lasting 10 to 60 sec, followed by gradually increasing depth and frequency of respirations

Eupnea – Normal unimpaired respiration

Kussmaul – Very deep, repetitive, gasping respiratory pattern associated with profound acidosis; may be sign of impeding death


Apnea – Temporary cessation of breathing and, therefore, of the body’s intake of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide

Bradypnea – Abnormally slow breathing

Tachypnea – Abnormally fast breathing

Cardiac output – Amount of blood discharged from the left or right ventricle per minute

Core temperature – the temperature deep within a living body; oral temperature is 37° Celsius (98.6° Fahrenheit); rectally, it is 37.3° Celsius (99.2° Fahrenheit)

Doppler – is a noninvasive test that can be used to estimate your blood flow through blood vessels by bouncing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) off circulating red blood cells

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Febrile – pertaining to fever

Fibrillation – in which the normal rhythmic contractions of the cardiac atria are replaced by rapid irregular twitchings of the muscular wall; the ventricles respond irregularly to the dysrhythmic bombardment from the atria

Hypertension – Condition in which the blood pressure is higher than 140mm Hg systolic or 90 mm Gh diastolic on three separate readings recorded several weeks apart

Hyperthermia – Artificial elevation of body temperature for therapeutic reasons; unusually high fever

Hypervolemia – Volume overload; too much fluid in the blood

Hypotension – Decrease in the systolic and diastolic blood pressure to below normal

Hypothalamus – Bottom half of the diencephalon of the brain. Regulator of the essential homeostatic balance of body fluids, salt concentrations, temperature, and energy metabolism

Hypothermia – A core body temperature below 35 Celsius

Hypovolemia – A decreased blood volume that may be caused by internal or external bleeding; fluid losses; or inadequate fluid intake

Infarction – Death of tissue from deprivation of its blood supply

Palpate – To examine by tough

Peripheral – Pertaining to or located at the periphery or away from the center; outer part of surface or an organ or body

Piloerection – Elevation of the hair above the skin as a result of contraction of the arrector pilimuscles; may occur after exposure to cold

Shock – A clinical syndrome marked by inadequate perfusion and oxygenation of cells, tissues, and organs, usually due to marginal or markedly lowered blood pressure

Sphygmomanometer – instrument for determining arterial blood pressure indirectly

Valsalva maneuver – Attempt to forcibly exhale with the glottis, nose, and mouth closed

Vasoconstriction – A decrease in the diameter of blood vessels, which decreases blood flow and raises blood pressure

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Vasodilation – An increase in the diameter of blood vessels, which increases blood flow and lowers bold pressure

Pulse terminology:

Atrial fibrillation – an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body. During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly — out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.

Bigeminal pulse – pulse in which the beats occur in pairs followed by a pause. Also called coupled pulse.

Bradycardia – Slower than normal pulse rate

Bounding pulse – Pulse that reaches a higher intensity than normal, then disappears quickly


Premature beats – are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of your heart’s two lower pumping chambers (ventricles). These extra beats disrupt your regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing you to feel a flip-flop or skipped beat in your chest

Pulse deficit – the difference in a minute’s time between the number of beats of the heart and the number of beats of the pulse observed in diseases of the heart.

Pulsus alternans – a physical finding with arterial pulse waveform showing alternating strong and weak beats. It is almost always indicative of left ventricular systolic impairment, and carries a poor prognosis

Pulsus paradoxus – an abnormally large decrease in systolic blood pressure and pulse wave amplitude during inspiration. The normal fall in pressure is less than 10 mm Hg

Sinus arrhythmia – heart rate varies due to reflex changes in vagal tone during the different stages of the respiratory cycle. Inspiration increases the heart rate by decreasing vagal tone

Tachycardia – Abnormally rapid heartbeat

Thready pulse – a scarcely perceptible and commonly rapid pulse that feels like a fine mobile thread under a palpating finger