Reading a heart rate monitor or vital signs monitor can be confusing. This is because there are different readouts and figures to be familiar with.
A heart rate or vital signs monitor can inform you of various aspects, including heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, etc.
You’ve come to the right place if you’ve ever been hooked up to a monitor and didn’t know the numbers. This article discusses how to read heart rate monitor results and what they mean for your health.
What is a Heart Rate Monitor?
Heart rate monitors use electrical signals to measure a heart rate. Personal heart rate monitors are usually pulse monitors for the wrist and chest straps. These devices can be very advanced, so many athletes use them to keep track of their fitness levels.
Moreover, heart rate monitors can also be advanced hospital monitors. They are also called patient or vital signs monitors. These are some of the most advanced heart rate monitors because they measure much more than just heart rate.
Moreover, high-end personal heart rate monitors, such as Fitbit, can also keep track of heart rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and body temperature. They can also provide an ECG readout, a respiratory waveform, and an Sp02 waveform.
How to Read Heart Rate Monitor Results
Now that we know what a heart rate monitor is and what it does let’s discuss how to read the results.
The heart rate is easy to read on a heart rate or vital signs monitor. On a large vital signs monitor, such as in a hospital, you will see a number at the top of the screen. This will usually be labeled as “HR.”
Your heart rate is measured in beats per minute, or BPM. The resting heart rate should be around 80 beats per minute for a healthy adult, with an acceptable range between 60 and 100. If your heart rate is below 60 or above 100 when resting, there may be an issue.
Of course, if you have just been exercising, your heart rate will be higher than when you are resting. Look at the number you are provided and compare it with the acceptable heartbeat range.
A good heart rate monitor will also provide a blood pressure readout, especially in hospitals. There will be two readings: systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
Systolic blood pressure is caused by your heart contracting and pushing blood out. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure that occurs when your heart relaxes after a beat and fills back up with blood. The average blood pressure for a healthy human being is around 120/80.
If your blood pressure reads high or low, especially when compared to that average, you may want to seek medical attention. Both high and low blood pressure can indicate more serious medical conditions.
Some heart rate monitors, whether personal monitors or those in hospitals, will measure body temperature. The average body temperature for a human is between 97.5 and 98.9 Fahrenheit.
This translates to around 36.4 to 37.2 degrees Celsius. If your monitor indicates that your body temperature is over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius, you have a fever.
If your heart rate monitor reads a body temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you require immediate medical attention.
A high-end heart rate monitor can also provide your respiratory or breathing rate. This indicates how many breaths per minute you take. On a hospital vital signs monitor, this will be labeled as RR. An average human will take between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.
If you take fewer breaths per minute, it could indicate that you are in great physical shape and simply don’t need to take that many breaths. However, if your breathing is significantly elevated, especially over 20 breaths per minute, it may indicate that you require medical assistance.
Blood Oxygen Saturation
A good heart rate monitor might have oxygen saturation or blood oxygen saturation monitoring, known as SpO2. In simplest terms, this indicates how much oxygen is circulating in your bloodstream.
You will be given a percentage as a reading. This can go from 0% to 100%. A blood oxygen saturation of 95% or higher is considered very healthy for the average human.
Anything under 95% may be an indication that there are issues. For instance, smokers and people with lung damage may have blood oxygen saturation levels lower than 95% or even lower than 90%. If your blood oxygen saturation is lower than 95%, you may want to seek medical attention.
ECG, Waveforms, and More
If you have a very advanced heart rate monitor or look at a hospital vital signs monitor, you will see various waves and lines. One of the most common is the ECG or electrocardiogram.
This provides information about the heart’s electrical activity; it is a way to read your heart rate with more specific and detailed information than a standard heart rate monitor or beats per minute readout.
However, this provides information that only medical professionals need, as it can be complicated. In addition, this is generally not something that you will do at home. That said, high-end personal heart rate monitors may provide an ECG readout. Again, however, this may be unnecessary and too difficult to read for a layman.
A heart rate monitor may also provide an SpO2 waveform, a reading concerning blood oxygen saturation. It can inform you if there are issues with peripheral perfusion or circulation.
One thing to note is that each peak of the SpO2 waveform correlates with the heartbeat the ECG waveform provides. However, this is also one of the more complicated aspects that only medical professionals will need and generally not something that a home-based heart rate monitor will tell you.
Heart Rate Monitor Results – When Should I Worry?
The main thing that we are discussing is your heart rate. So, when you get your heart rate monitor results, when should you worry?
First and foremost, if your heartbeat is over 100 beats per minute while you’re resting, there may be an underlying cardiovascular issue. Of course, if you have just completed a vigorous exercise, you’re obviously going to have an elevated heart rate. This is also the case for your respiratory rate and blood pressure—both can rise with vigorous exercise.
Therefore, before you panic, make sure you take your readings when calm and have not been exercising. If any of the readings that a heart rate monitor provides are consistently out of the acceptable range, you should seek medical attention.
As you can see, reading the basics on a heart rate monitor is relatively easy. However, additional aspects, such as the ECG, are usually left to medical professionals.