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Pulse

Heart rate; Heart beat

 

The pulse is the number of heartbeats per minute.

How the Test is Performed

 

The pulse can be measured at areas where an artery passes close to the skin. These areas include the:

  • Back of the knees
  • Groin
  • Neck
  • Temple
  • Top or inner side of the foot
  • Wrist

To measure the pulse at the wrist, place the index and middle finger over the underside of the opposite wrist, below the base of the thumb. Press with flat fingers until you feel the pulse.

To measure the pulse on the neck, place the index and middle fingers just to the side of the Adam's apple, in the soft, hollow area. Press gently until you locate the pulse.

Note: Sit or lie down before taking the neck pulse. The neck arteries in some people are sensitive to pressure. Fainting or slowing of the heartbeat can result. Also, do not take the pulses on both sides of the neck at the same time. Doing so can slow the flow of blood to the head and lead to fainting.

Once you find the pulse, count the beats for 1 full minute. Or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This will give the beats per minute.

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

To determine the resting heart rate, you must have been resting for at least 10 minutes. Take the exercise heart rate while you are exercising.

 

How the Test will Feel

 

There is a slight pressure from the fingers.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

Measuring the pulse gives important information about your health. Any change from your normal heart rate can indicate a health problem. Fast pulse may signal an infection or dehydration. In emergency situations, the pulse rate can help determine if the patient's heart is pumping.

Pulse measurement has other uses as well. During or immediately after exercise, the pulse rate gives information about your fitness level and health.

 

Normal Results

 

For resting heart rate:

  • Newborns 0 to 1 month old: 70 to 190 beats per minute
  • Infants 1 to 11 months old: 80 to 160 beats per minute
  • Children 1 to 2 years old: 80 to 130 beats per minute
  • Children 3 to 4 years old: 80 to 120 beats per minute
  • Children 5 to 6 years old: 75 to 115 beats per minute
  • Children 7 to 9 years old: 70 to 110 beats per minute
  • Children 10 years and older, and adults (including seniors): 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • Well-trained athletes: 40 to 60 beats per minute

 

What Abnormal Results Mean

 

Resting heart rates that are continually high (tachycardia) may mean a problem. Talk to a health care provider about this. Also discuss resting heart rates that are below the normal values (bradycardia).

A pulse that is very firm (bounding pulse) and that lasts for more than a few minutes should be checked by your provider as well. An irregular pulse can also indicate a problem.

A pulse that is hard to locate may mean blockages in the artery. These blockages are common in people with diabetes or hardening of the artery from high cholesterol. Your provider may order a test known as a Doppler study to check the blockages.

 

 

References

Bernstein D. Evaluation of the cardiovascular system: history and physical evaluation. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, et al, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 416.

Bernstein D. History and physical evaluation. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 422.

Simel DL. Approach to the patient: history and physical examination. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 7.

 
  • Taking your carotid pulse

    Taking your carotid pulse - illustration

    The carotid arteries take oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain. The pulse from the carotids may be felt on either side of the front of the neck just below the angle of the jaw. This rhythmic "beat" is caused by varying volumes of blood being pushed out of the heart toward the extremities.

    Taking your carotid pulse

    illustration

  • Radial pulse

    Radial pulse - illustration

    Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the tissues of the body. Veins carry blood depleted of oxygen from the same tissues back to the heart. The arteries are the vessels with the "pulse," a rhythmic pushing of the blood in the heart followed by a refilling of the heart chamber. To determine heart rate, one counts the beats at a pulse point like the inside of the wrist for 10 seconds, and multiplies this number by 6. This is the per-minute total.

    Radial pulse

    illustration

  • Wrist pulse

    Wrist pulse - illustration

    To measure the pulse at the wrist, place the index and middle finger over the underside of the opposite wrist, below the base of the thumb. Press firmly with flat fingers until you feel the pulse in the radial artery.

    Wrist pulse

    illustration

  • Neck pulse

    Neck pulse - illustration

    To measure the pulse on the neck, place the index and middle finger just to the side of the Adam's apple, in the soft hollow area. This pulse is felt in the common carotid artery.

    Neck pulse

    illustration

  • How to take your pulse

    How to take your pulse - illustration

    How to take your pulse: Place the tips of your index and middle finger on the inside of your wrist below the base of your thumb.Press lightly. You will feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers.Use a watch or clock with a second hand. Count the beats you feel for 1 minute. Or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This is also called your pulse rate. Place the tips of your index and middle finger on the inside of your wrist below the base of your thumb. Press lightly. You will feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers. Use a watch or clock with a second hand. Count the beats you feel for 1 minute. Or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This is also called your pulse rate.

    How to take your pulse

    illustration

    • Taking your carotid pulse

      Taking your carotid pulse - illustration

      The carotid arteries take oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain. The pulse from the carotids may be felt on either side of the front of the neck just below the angle of the jaw. This rhythmic "beat" is caused by varying volumes of blood being pushed out of the heart toward the extremities.

      Taking your carotid pulse

      illustration

    • Radial pulse

      Radial pulse - illustration

      Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the tissues of the body. Veins carry blood depleted of oxygen from the same tissues back to the heart. The arteries are the vessels with the "pulse," a rhythmic pushing of the blood in the heart followed by a refilling of the heart chamber. To determine heart rate, one counts the beats at a pulse point like the inside of the wrist for 10 seconds, and multiplies this number by 6. This is the per-minute total.

      Radial pulse

      illustration

    • Wrist pulse

      Wrist pulse - illustration

      To measure the pulse at the wrist, place the index and middle finger over the underside of the opposite wrist, below the base of the thumb. Press firmly with flat fingers until you feel the pulse in the radial artery.

      Wrist pulse

      illustration

    • Neck pulse

      Neck pulse - illustration

      To measure the pulse on the neck, place the index and middle finger just to the side of the Adam's apple, in the soft hollow area. This pulse is felt in the common carotid artery.

      Neck pulse

      illustration

    • How to take your pulse

      How to take your pulse - illustration

      How to take your pulse: Place the tips of your index and middle finger on the inside of your wrist below the base of your thumb.Press lightly. You will feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers.Use a watch or clock with a second hand. Count the beats you feel for 1 minute. Or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This is also called your pulse rate. Place the tips of your index and middle finger on the inside of your wrist below the base of your thumb. Press lightly. You will feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers. Use a watch or clock with a second hand. Count the beats you feel for 1 minute. Or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This is also called your pulse rate.

      How to take your pulse

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Pulse

           

           

          Review Date: 1/31/2015

          Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

          The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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