Almost all of us know the importance of pulse rate. In fact, many of us have the habit of measuring our pulse rate to know whether our heart beats normally or not. However, not all of us are well informed about heart beat and pulse rate. We might not know what is normal pulse rate, what if pulse rate is high, does a fast heart beat always indicate risk or what's the connection between blood pressure and high pulse rate? Lets know these and such other facts about pulse rate and heart beat to keep the myths away.
What is Pulse Rate?
Pulse is the rate at which our heart beats. In simple terms pulse rate is the number of times our heart beats per minute (bpm).
What is the Normal Pulse Rate?
Normal pulse rate is the rate at which our heart beats in resting condition- resting after 10 minutes will give your average pulse rate. Best time to measure your normal pulse rate is in the morning after you wake up but have not still come out of your bed. There are many factors like age, activity level, and the time of the day that can affect your normal pulse rate as your heart might beat faster or slower due to them. Normal Pulse Rate for each age can be understood through the below resting pulse rate chart
How Does Age and Fitness Affect Pulse Rate?
Pulse Rate Chart
Age/ FitnessHeart Beat Per Minute (bpm)Babies- 1 year age100-1601-10 years age70-12011-17 years age60-100Adults60-100Old Age60-100Fit Athlete40-60
With age, normal pulse rate changes a little but this change is insignificant. A healthy adult with good fitness level has a resting pulse rate between 60-65 beats per minute. This heart beat rate might fluctuate a little over the period depending upon the fitness level and certain other factors like activity level, body size, medicines, stress etc. However as a person reaches 65 years of age, the pulse rate again gets back to 62-65 bpm.
Fitness, on the other hand, has a bigger role to play in maintaining normal pulse rate. An elderly person above 65 years of age with poor physical condition might have a pulse rate of 84-100 or more beats per minute. However, if he/she is in good condition the pulse rate can be well within 65 and 68 bpm.
Apart from age and fitness level, pulse rate can change over time due to other factors like medical history, emotional state and medicines, air temperature, body position while measuring pulse rate (standing or lying down etc.)
How to Measure Pulse Rate?
As the heart pumps blood through our body, we can feel a pulsing at some of the blood vessels that lie close to our skin's surface. These points are situated in the wrist, temple area, groin, behind the knee, upper arm, or top of the foot. The inside of your wrist, just below the thumb, is the most comfortable point for measuring heart beat that will give your pulse rate.
- Have a watch or stop watch that you can see comfortably.
- Turn your hand with palm-side facing up.
- Place two of your fingers (preferably index finger and middle finger) just below the thumb.
- Never use your thumb because it has its own pulse that you may feel leading to wrong pulse rate measurement.
- Now exert slight pressure with your fingers against the bone. You will feel the pulsating throb.
- Count the beat/pulse for 15 seconds.
- Now multiply the number that you get by 4. This is your heart beat or pulse rate. You can even count for 30 seconds and double the number for ease.
Pulse Rate Sites
When you attempt to check your pulse in the carotid artery located in your neck on either side of your windpipe, you should be careful, especially if you are older than 65 years of age. Pressing too hard at this location might make you lightheaded and fall. You can even use an electronic pulse rate meter which will automatically check your pulse in your finger, wrist, or chest.
What if Pulse Rate is High?
If you have a healthy heart, your pulse rate will be around 60 to 100 bpm. There are certain conditions when you may get fast heart beat rate like fever, fear, stress, anxiety or when you exercise. This is normal. However, if your heart rate is consistently above 100 beats per minute or you have a consistent low pulse rate below 60 bpm, you should consult your doctor to find out the underlying reasons. The first condition where you have abnormal rapid heart beat is called Tachycardia and the later condition when you have low pulse rate is called Bradycardia. Consult your physician whenever you witness either of the condition especially when you face such medical situations as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.
When Do You Get Fast, Slow or Weak Pulse Rate?
We have earlier discussed about age and fitness levels as the factors responsible for slow or fast heart beat rates. There are certain other factors too that can affect the rate of your heart beat.
A fast heart beat rate may be due to following reasons:
- Activity or exercising.
- Medicines like decongestants and asthma medicines.
- Certain types of heart disease.
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland).
- Stimulants like caffeine, amphetamines, diet pills, cigarettes.
A slow heart beat rate may be due to following reasons:
- Certain types of heart diseases and medicine to treat them.
- High levels of fitness.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland).
A weak heart beat rate may be due to following reasons:
- Blood clot in arm or leg.
- Peripheral arterial disease (diseases of blood vessels).
- Heart disease and heart failure.
How is Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate Related?
Pulse rate is not correlated with blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries whereas pulse rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute- they are different. Blood pressure includes two measurements- systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the top number- the pressure as the heart beats and forces blood into the arteries. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number- the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats. It is measured as mm Hg (millimeters of mercury), for example 120/80 mm Hg. On the other hand, pulse rate includes a single number which represents the number of heartbeats per minute and is measured as BPM (beats per minute), for example 70 bpm.
No good correlation can be established between pulse rate and blood pressure. If you have fast heart beat (read pulse rate), it does not causes your blood pressure to increase at the same rate. In this condition, even though your heart is beating more times a minute, the healthy blood vessels get larger (dilate) so that more blood can flow through easily. When you are exercising, your heart will beat faster so that your blood can reach your muscles. Your heart rate may get much faster, even double and that is safe while your blood pressure may only increase a modest amount. Even when you stop exercising, your pulse will not immediately return to normal. It will only gradually return to its resting level. The greater your fitness level is, the sooner your pulse rate will become normal. However, pulse rate is not linked to your blood pressure.
Even when you have low blood pressure and high pulse rate (about 75-100 bpm), there is no cause to worry about unless you feel cold or clammy, trouble in breathing, or as if you would faint.