How to Check Your Pulse

Three Parts:Finding and Recording Your PulseWhat To Do If You Can't Find Your PulseFinding Your Maximum And Target Heart Rates

Checking your pulse allows you to determine your heart rate without any special equipment. This can be useful if you're trying to lose weight or you have a brain condition. Read on to find out how easy and painless it is to check your pulse.

Part 1
Finding and Recording Your Pulse

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    Use your index finger and middle finger when finding your pulse. Don't use your thumb, as its own pulse is strong enough to interfere with your reading.
    • Find the radial pulse. This is the pulse on the side of the wrist nearest your body. Use the pads of your fingers. Place them just below the wrist creases on the thumb side. Press lightly until you feel the blood pulsing under your skin. If necessary, move your fingers around a bit until you feel the pulse. (It's there, just not always easy to locate.)
    • Find the carotid pulse. To feel a pulse on the side of the neck just below the jaw line, place your index and middle fingers in the hollow between the windpipe and the large muscle in the neck. Press lightly until you feel a pulse. This is sometimes easier than finding the pulse in your wrists.
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    Check and record your heart rate. Use a watch or clock with a second hand or digital second display. Count the number of times you feel a throb for one minute (60 seconds). This is the most accurate method.
    • If you're in a hurry, you could count the beats you feel for 15 seconds and multiply by four or count beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two. These options will work but are not quite as accurate as counting for a full minute.
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    Establish your normal heart rate. The normal resting heart rate for an adult is 60-100 beats per minute. Normal heart rate for children under 18 is 70-120 beats per minute. [1]. This applies to a person who is at rest. Any physical activity will increase the pulse rate.
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    Check the strength of the pulse to see if it is strong or weak. The strength of your pulse cannot be calculated precisely, but experienced professionals will characterize a pulse as "weak", "faint", "strong", or "bounding". This is an indication of the health of the heart and vascular system. [2]
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    Check the rhythm of your pulse. You're looking for regularity of pulsations and the pauses between them. If your pulse is steady, note it as "regular." If you detect a skip or other fluctuation in the pulse, it may be termed "irregular." This is not necessarily a cause for alarm, but if you note a consistent irregularity, you should seek medical advice (as noted below). [3]

Part 2
What To Do If You Can't Find Your Pulse

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    Try using your fingertips instead of laying your fingers across your wrist. Place the tips in different places and stop at each location for five seconds.
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    Try varying the pressure of your fingertips on your wrist. Sometimes either lightening your touch or pressing harder will help you find a pulse.
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    Try checking for a pulse while dropping your hand toward the floor. Holding your hand up near your head can make your pulse less distinct. Dropping your hand will slightly alter your blood flow through that wrist and make it easier to detect a pulse.
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    Use a stethoscope. If you have such an instrument, use it here. Lift up or remove your shirt, hold the stethoscope against your bare chest, and listen. Count each beat as you hear it, and listen for any skipped beats.

Part 3
Finding Your Maximum And Target Heart Rates

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    Find your potential maximum heart rate. This is the highest your pulse rate can get. You will use your potential maximum heart rate to determine your target heart rate. To find yours, follow this formula: 220 - your age = predicted maximum heart rate.
    • Try exercising intensely for 30 minutes. Check your heart rate immediately after (or even during) your exercise. Compare your actual exercising heart rate to your potential maximum rate. The numbers should be fairly close.
    • If you're taking your pulse during exercise, keep your feet moving as you do so or blood might accumulate in your extremities.
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    Find your target heart rate. This is 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. The reason there is a range rather than a solid number is that everyone has a different fitness level. While you exercise, check your pulse for 15 seconds.

Tips

  • To measure your relaxed heart rate, try lying down for one minute before taking your pulse (while still lying down).
  • Smartphone apps are available that will take your pulse for you. Install a pulse app, then measure your pulse following the instructions (usually by holding a finger over the camera lens).
  • You can also take your pulse at your temple or chest, but these methods are not as easy to perform.

Warnings

  • Do not palpate (tap or push on) both carotid arteries on your neck simultaneously. This can decrease the blood circulation to the brain.
  • If you detect irregular or very fast heartbeats, follow up with medical attention.
  • If you notice a consistent pattern of skipped beats while measuring your pulse, seek medical attention. A single skipped beat is not necessarily a cause for alarm.
  • Do not press too hard on the carotid area of your neck, as that can stimulate a reflex mechanism that slows down the heart. A light pressure is sufficient for pulse-taking.

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