How to Determine Pulse Rate

How to Determine Pulse Rate

Pulse Rate

The pulse rate, sometimes also called heart rate, pertains to how many times a person’s heart beats in a minute or other units of time. Specifically, it pertains to how many contractions occur in the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles. There is a slight different between the pulse heart rate. Whereas the pulse pertains to the particular artery to which one is checking with fingers, the heart rate pertains to the how many times the heart contracts in a particular amount. The figure for heart rate and pulse rate are frequently the same, except in particular medical conditions. The heart rate will vary in activity as doing physical activities may increase heart rate, whereas activities such as sleep may decrease heart rate.

Why Should a Person Check Their Pulse Rate?

There are many reasons to check pulse rates. The following are the most common reasons for checking pulse rates:

  • To check heart rate and how well the heart is working – it will help determine if the heart is pumping sufficient blood, especially in emergency situations
  • To check health and fitness level
  • Aid in determining the cause of various symptoms including palpitations, fainting, chest pain, dyspnea, and dizziness, among others
  • During a medical visit
  • After an injury to check the effects of a medication
  • Curiosity

What is the Proper Way of Determining Pulse Rate?

There are several regions to determine the pulse. The pulse is usually detected in an area where the artery passes close to the skin, such as the neck or the wrist, but it can also be performed in other locations.

  • Find a quiet and comfortable place where one can sit down. It is better that if no distractions are present in the environment.
  • Prepare the watch with a second hand or digital stop watch
  • Hold out one hand with the palm facing upwards and the elbow slightly bent.
  • Position the index and middle fingers of the second hand inside the wrist, precisely below the base of the thumb. Do not use the thumb as it has its own artery.
  • Slightly press the two fingers on the skin until pulse is felt.
  • If pulse is not felt, press slightly harder or search for the artery using the fingers and press again.
  • This can be done for one minute, counting the beats per minute (bpm) for better accuracy. One may also opt to count over a 20-second period and multiplying the total by 3 or count over a 30-second period and multiplying the total by 2.
  • Another option is to check the pulse on the carotid artery located in the neck, although this might not generally be recommended in individuals older than 65 as too much pressure may result to light headedness. In medical emergencies, checking for presence of pulse is usually done by the carotid artery.

What is a Normal Resting Pulse Rate?

According to WebMD, the normal range of resting heart rate, which is pulse rate after resting for ten minutes, will vary according to age, activity level and time of the day. The chart below can help a person determine if their heart rate is within the normal range. In cases pulse rate exceeds or is below normal range, it should not always be cause for concern. Seek medical attention it is accompanied by other accompanying symptoms.

Age or Fitness Level Beats per minute (bpm)
Babies to age 1 100-160
Children ages 1 to 10 70-120
Children ages 11 to 17 60-100
Adults: 60-100
Well-conditioned athletes 40-60

Determining the pulse in medical emergencies, especially when there

is loss of consciousness, is very important as part of checking the CABs of First Aid. In cases where no pulse is detected, initiating CPR is necessary, as it may just save a life. To learn how to give proper CPR in cases when no pulse rate is detected, sign up for CPR Courses with Red Cross Training available all over the country.


How to Check Your Pulse. (2013). Medical News Today. Retrieved on October 5, 2013, from

Pulse Measurement. (2010). WebMD. Retrieved on October 5, 2013, from