Your pulse, pulse rate or heart rate refer to how many times your heart beats per minute or a specific unit of time - how many contractions occur in the heart's ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).
What is the difference between your pulse and your heart rate?
Heart rate refers to the heart, how many times it contracts in a given time.
Pulse (pulse rate) refers to the artery you are checking with your finger(s), how many times it bulges when there is a gush surge.
The figure for heart rate and pulse rate is the nearly always same (except in certain medical conditions), because a bulge in the artery is caused by the heart contracting and pushing blood out.
A person's heart rate varies depending on what they are doing - it is slower when they are sleeping and faster when exercising.
Finding your pulse
Your pulse can be found where an artery passes close to the skin, such as your neck or wrist.
How to find your pulse in your wrist
Hold one of your hands out with the palm facing upwards and the elbow slightly bent
Place your index (first) and middle fingers of your other hand on the inside of your wrist, just below the base of your thumb
Press the two fingers lightly on your skin until you feel your pulse
If you feel nothing, either press harder or search with your fingers for the artery and press again
Do not press your thumb on your wrist because it has its own pulse, an artery goes through it
Count how many beats there are over a 20-second period and then multiply the total by 3, which will give you your heart rate (per minute). Some people prefer to continue for thirty seconds and then multiply by 2 or to count for a whole minute for better accuracy
Your resting rate - this is your heartbeat (per minute) after you have been resting (sitting or lying still) for ten minutes.
Finding your pulse on your neck (carotid artery)
You can also find your pulse by pressing the same two fingers on the side of your neck (carotid artery), beside your Adam's apple in the hollow area. If you are over 65 be careful you do not press too hard; there is a risk of becoming lightheaded.
Other ways of checking your pulse
The popliteal artery - behind the knee
The abdominal aorta - over the abdomen
The apex of the heart - can be felt if you place your hand/fingers on your chest
The basilar artery - close to the ear
The brachial artery - inside the elbow or under the biceps
The dorsalis pedis - the middle of dorsum of the foot (the back, or upper surface, of the foot)
The femoral artery - in the groin
The posterior tibial artery - the ankle joint
The superficial temporal artery - the temple
Using a heart rate monitor
There are several personal monitoring devices, known as heart rate monitors or pulsometers, that allow you to measure your heart rate in real time. Some of them even record your heart rate for later study.
Heart rate monitors, for personal use, are popular among athlete's and people who exercise regularly. A growing number of people buy them to check their resting heart rates at home, instead of pressing their fingers on an artery to check their pulse rate.
There are two popular types of heart rate monitors:
A chest strap and watch - consists of two parts. You place the watch around your wrist and a strap around your chest.
Strapless heart rate monitor - the device goes around your wrist, part of the back of your hand, and your index finger.
Finding and measuring another person's pulse
Make sure the person is resting - seated with their back supported and feet on the floor, or lying down.
Stand facing the person and ask them to extend their arm toward you or take their hand, pull gently and stretch the arm toward you, with their palm facing upward. Then follow the same procedures explained above for when you take your own pulse.
For a healthy human being, aged at least 18 years, anything between 60 and 100 beats per minutes is usually considered as a normal resting heart rate.
Fit people tend to have a slower heart rate than unfit individuals. Some Olympic athletes have been known to have a resting heart rate of 40 bmp (beats per minute). In fact, a resting heart rate of 29 bpm was once recorded with Miguel Indurain, a champion cyclist.
The following are ideal normal heart rates in bpm:
According to the National Institutes of Health, USA
Newborns (0 to 3 months) - 100 to 150
Infants (3 to 6 months) - 90 to 120
Infants (6 to 12 months) - 80 to 120
Children (1 to 10 years) - 70 to 130
People over 10 years - 60 to 100
Well trained adult athletes - 40 to 60
According to the National Health Service, UK
Newborns (0 to 1 month) - 120 to 160
Infants (1 to 12 months) - 80 to 140
Babies/toddlers (1 to 2 years) - 80 to 130
Toddlers/young children (2 to 6 years) - 75 to 120
Children (7 to 12 years) - 75 to 110
Adults aged (18+ years) - 60 to 100
Adult athletes - 40 to 60
UK data may vary depending on which health authority you access
Why should your pulse be checked?
People may check their pulse for many reasons:
Curiosity - you may simply want to know what your heart rate is, perhaps during/after a conversation your friends talked about their heart rates.
During a medical visit - when doctors carry out a physical exam, they often check the patient's heart rate.
To check your heart - in any emergency situation, a person's heart rate can help determine whether the heart is pumping blood properly
After an injury - to check for blood flow
To check a medication's effect - if a patient is taking medication to slow the heart, such as beta-blockers, the doctor may ask them to check their pulse every day
To check your fitness - you may wish to check your pulse rate during moments of physical exercise. For this you should wear a heart rate monitor. Some exercise machines have heart rate monitors you hold on to with your hands. Serious athletes also check how long it takes for their heart rate to return to normal after physical exertion.
If your pulse feels irregular
Some people may find that their pulse is irregular - during the 20, 30 or 60 seconds when they feel their pulse, the beats do not follow a steady beat. If your pulse feels irregular you should contact your doctor because you might haveatrial fibrillation (AF), the leading cause of stroke in North America and Western Europe (see the video below).