Surprising Facts About Your Pulse

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Surprising Facts About Your Pulse
Surprising Facts About Your Pulse. Graphic © Images: Pulse Evaluation © Pia von Lützau – Wikipedia – lic. under CC-BY-SA-3.0; Heart Rate Monitor – Wikipedia (PD)

Because the heart is located in the chest, assessing its condition non-invasively seems challenging. But that’s not actually the case. The heart is a major organ that is responsible for pumping blood to the rest of the body, meaning any area where blood is flowing can be used to assess the heart. The simplest way to check if the heart is beating adequately is by taking a person’s pulse. A doctor may also use a stethoscope to amplify the sound of the heartbeat, or run an ECG (electrocardiogram) to look at the function of the heart in more detail. This is a completely painless process that involves measuring the electrical impulses of the heart with a computer and electrodes, which then create a detailed chart of the beats.

Facts About The Pulse

Did you know that the word pulse comes from the latin word “pulsus” which means “beat”? [1] That’s why it is aptly used to call the beating of the heart that can be felt in the extremities of the body. When the heart beats, the force of the blood moving through the blood vessels creates a beat or throb that can be felt. You can feel the pulse in different areas of the body – the inner wrist (radial), inner elbow (brachial), behind the knee (popliteal), top of the foot (dorsalis pedis), and the neck (carotid), to name a few. [2]

Checking Your Pulse

There are two things to remember when checking the pulse of another person: (1) never use the thumb and (2) use light but firm pressure. Why?

• When you use the thumb, there is a chance you are feeling your own pulse instead of the other person’s. This is because your thumb has a palpable pulse all on its own.

• If you press too lightly, you won’t feel anything. If you press too hard, you can obliterate the pulse and even cause the other person pain or discomfort.

• Count the pulsation for one full minute to get an accurate reading. If the pulse is regular, you can simply count for 15 seconds then multiply by four. [3]

How Your Pulse Can Change

The heart is easily affected by the body’s physical and emotional state, the food we eat, and the medications we take – hence the pulse is easily affected as well. When you listen to the heart directly by using a stethoscope, that is called auscultation and it is able to directly assess the heartbeat. The pulse is a little different – on top of the normal factors like disease and medications, pulse can also be affected by position and clothing. [4]

Common factors that affect your pulse: (1) stress – physical and emotional stress, (2) dehydration or severe fluid loss, (3) cardiac and/or vascular disease, (4) position or clothing that obliterates the pulse (e.g. lying on the arm, constrictive clothing). [4]

“Normal” Heartbeat Pace Can Vary Widely From Person To Person

The normal heart rate range is from 60 beats per minute to 100 beats per minute in an adult at rest. When the heart beats too slow, it is bradycardic. When the heart beats too fast, it is tachycardic. Both are dangerous and can ultimately cause the heart to arrest if allowed to persist for long periods of time without any treatment. [4]

1 – Pulse rate less than 60 bpm – bradycardia
2 – Pulse rate from 60 to 100 bpm – normal
3 – Pulse rate higher than 100 bpm — tachycardia

While taking your pulse isn’t necessarily a “must do” in your everyday life, it pays to know how to in case of any emergencies.


[1] Online Etymology Dictionary.

[2] Walker, H. (1990). Examination of the Extremities.

[3] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure).…/

[4] American Heart Association. All About Heart Rate (Pulse).

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