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How To Count Your Pulse Or Heart Rate

Dr. Indrajeet Tyagi and Dr. Iranna Hirapur

How To Count Your Pulse Or Heart Rate
by Dr. Indrajeet Tyagi and Dr. Iranna Hirapur

Overall, your pulse, or heart rate is a tool that provides a snapshot of your health and can tell you a lot about your heart. Measuring your heart rate is an effective and easy way to assess your health. It can help you monitor your overall fitness level and identify potential heart conditions.

It is recommended that all adults measure their resting heart rate once a week. Those older than 60 should assess resting heart rate more often, as often as daily. Anyone who is curious about his or her overall fitness can also measure heart rate during or after activity.


What is your pulse?

When your heart beats it pushes blood around your body. This heartbeat can be felt as your 'pulse' on your wrist or neck. Your pulse is measured by counting the number of times your heart beats in one minute. If your heart contracts 72 times in one minute, your pulse would be 72 beats per minute (BPM). A normal pulse beats in a steady, regular rhythm whereas an irregular pulse shows an uneven, irregular rhythm, or 'jumps about'.


How do you find one’s pulse?

The easiest place to find your pulse is in your wrist.

  • Turn your hand so that your palm is facing upwards.
  • Now place the two fingers from your other hand on your wrist in the outside groove below the base of your thumb.
  • Press lightly to feel the pulse under your fingers. If you cannot feel, anything press slightly harder.

How do you check your pulse or heart rate?

You can measure your heart rate manually by checking your pulse by follow these three steps.

  • Find your pulse in your wrist.
  • Count each beat for a total time of 30 seconds.
  • Double the number of beats you counted. This is your heart rate or pulse, measured in beats per minute.

Make a note of whether your heart beats at an even or uneven rhythm. A normal heart beats in a steady rhythm like a clock, tick tock tick tock. Some people like to use a heart rate monitors like an Apple watch or a Fitbit, or even smartphone apps that use your phone’s camera to sense the pulse in your finger to measure their heart rate. These devices are getting more accurate over time. Even though they are not perfect, they provide good estimates. It is therefore suggested taking your heart rate by hand and comparing the numbers.


If you have been active or recently had a stimulant like nicotine or caffeine, or recreational drugs or some kinds of medications, anxiety, fear or excitement you will need to wait at least five to 15 minutes before taking your pulse. Learn about normal and abnormal heart rates and find out how to check your own pulse.


What is a normal heart rate?

A normal heart rate, when you are not being active, is generally between 60 – 100 beats per minute. This is called your resting heart rate. Athletes or people who are very fit may have resting heartbeats of less than 60 bpm. When you are active, your heart beats faster to get more oxygen to your working muscles. The harder your body is working, the faster your heart will beat. It may go up to 160 beats per minute or more.


What is an irregular pulse?

An irregular pulse or an arrhythmia is when the heart does not beat in a regular, steady rhythm. If your heart rate is irregular, you may notice that your pulse seems irregular or is 'jumping around or is racing, even when you are at rest or seems unusually slow some or most of the time, or seems to pause, add, or miss a beat.


Why is it important to get it checked?

As you track your heart rate regularly over time, you will start to understand what is normal for you and what is not. Talk to your primary care provider if you notice:

  • Resting heart rate consistently slower than 60 beats per minute, called bradycardia
  • Resting heart rate faster than 100 beats per minute, called tachycardia
  • Any irregular rhythm, called arrhythmia, when you may feel an extra beat or a skipped beat

Often an irregular pulse is harmless. However, it is important to get it checked by a health professional, because sometimes they can indicate a problem. A heart rate higher or lower than the normal range could be a sign of 1) Dehydration, 2) Heart disease, 3) Infection, 4) Medication side effect, 5) Persistent stress, 6) Problems with the level of potassium in your blood, 7) Thyroid disease.


The most common kind of heart rhythm condition is atrial fibrillation (AF), which can put you at greater risk of having a stroke. Then, talk to your doctor to do a simple test called an ECG (electrocardiogram) to check your irregular pulse.


What are heart palpitations?

A heart palpitation is when you suddenly become aware of your heart beating, usually in an irregular way. Sometimes you can feel it in your ears, neck or chest when you are lying down. Your heartbeat may feel too fast or slow, or like it is fluttering, or like it is thudding, or pounding. One may feel heart palpitations occasionally and mostly they are harmless. However if you are experiencing them on a regular basis, see your doctor.


Overall, measuring your heart rate by yourself is a useful tool that tells you about your health and heart health. If you notice that your heart rate is very high or that your rhythm is irregular, seek medical attention. This is especially true if you are experiencing any symptoms, such as sudden fatigue, dizziness, palpitations, pain, or excessive sweating.

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