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Your pulse is the rate at which your heart beats. Your pulse is usually called your heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats each minute (bpm). But the rhythm and strength of the heartbeat can also be noted, as well as whether the blood vessel feels hard or soft. Changes in your heart rate or rhythm, a weak pulse, or a hard blood vessel may be caused by heart disease or another problem.
As your heart pumps blood through your body, you can feel a pulsing in some of the blood vessels close to the skin's surface, such as in your wrist, neck, or upper arm. Counting your pulse rate is a simple way to find out how fast your heart is beating.
Your doctor will usually check your pulse during a physical examination or in an emergency, but you can easily learn to check your own pulse. You can check your pulse the first thing in the morning, just after you wake up but before you get out of bed. This is called a resting pulse. Some people like to check their pulse before and after they exercise.
You check your pulse rate by counting the beats in a set period of time (at least 15 to 20 seconds) and multiplying that number to get the number of beats per minute. Your pulse changes from minute to minute. It will be faster when you exercise, have a fever, or are under stress. It will be slower when you are resting.
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Your pulse is checked to:
All you need to check your pulse is a watch with a second hand or a digital stop watch. Find a quiet place, where you can sit down and are not distracted when you are learning to check your pulse.
You can measure your pulse rate anywhere an artery comes close to the skin, such as in your wrist or neck, temple area, groin, behind the knee, or top of your foot.
You can easily check your pulse on the inside of your wrist, below your thumb.
You can also check your pulse in the carotid artery. This is located in your neck, on either side of your windpipe. Be careful when checking your pulse in this location, especially if you are older than 65. If you press too hard, you may become light-headed and fall.
You can buy an electronic pulse meter to automatically check your pulse in your finger, wrist, or chest. These devices are helpful if you have trouble measuring your pulse or if you wish to check your pulse while you exercise.
Checking your pulse should not cause pain.
Checking your pulse should not cause problems. Be careful when checking your pulse in your neck, especially if you are older than 65. If you press too hard, you may become light-headed and fall.
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
Talk to your doctor if you have a fast heart rate, many skipped or extra beats, or if the blood vessel where you check your pulse feels hard.
Your pulse is the rate at which your heart beats. Your pulse is usually called your heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats each minute (bpm).
The chart below shows the normal range of a resting heart rate (pulse rate after resting 10 minutes) in beats per minute, according to age. Many things can cause changes in your normal heart rate, including your age, activity level, and the time of day.
Age or fitness level
Beats per minute (bpm)
Babies to age 1:
Children ages 1 to 10:
Children ages 11 to 17:
Your pulse usually has a strong steady or regular rhythm. Your blood vessel should feel soft. An occasional pause or extra beat is normal. Normally, your heart rate will speed up a little when you breathe deeply. You can check this normal change in your pulse rate by changing your breathing pattern while taking your pulse.
Many conditions can change your pulse rate. Your doctor will talk with you about any abnormal results that may be related to your symptoms and past health.
A fast heart rate may be caused by:
A slow resting heart rate may be caused by:
A weak pulse may be caused by:
Many people use a target heart rate to guide how hard they exercise. Use this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? This tool calculates your target heart rate using your maximum heart rate (based on your age), your resting heart rate, and how active you are.
During exercise, your heart should be working hard enough for a healthy effect but not so hard that your heart is overworked. You benefit the most when your exercise heart rate is within the range of your target heart rate. You can take your pulse rate during or after exercise to see if you are exercising at your target heart rate.
Or you can wear a heart rate monitor during exercise so you do not have to take your pulse. A heart rate monitor shows your pulse rate continuously, so you see how exercise changes your heart rate.
To check your heart rate while exercising:
Target heart rate is only a guide. Everyone is different, so pay attention to how you feel, how hard you are breathing, how fast your heart is beating, and how much you feel the exertion in your muscles.
You may not be able to feel your pulse or count your pulse correctly if you:
Many people take their pulse during or right after exercise, to check their heart rate and to find out if they are exercising at a healthy pace. Your heart rate (pulse) during and after exercise will be higher than your resting heart rate.
Call your doctor if your heart rate does not come down within a few minutes after you have stopped exercising.
As you continue to exercise regularly, your heart rate will not rise as high as it once did with the same amount of effort. This is a sign that you are becoming more fit. To learn more, see the topic Fitness.
Other Works ConsultedNational Institutes of Health, Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia (2011). Pulse. Available online: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003399.htm.
Current as of: March 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineThomas M. Bailey, MD, CCFP - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Thomas M. Bailey, MD, CCFP - Family Medicine
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