Taking a person’s pulse is the most basic of all medical procedures. It consists of checking a patient’s heartbeat by feeling their arteries. It is often used to determine a patient’s heart rate, which is a key health indicator. It is also used in emergencies to check if a person’s heart is still beating.
Knowing how to check a pulse – whether your own or another person’s – is a skill everyone should have. The following are some basic techniques you can use.
How to Check a Pulse
There are many ways to check a person’s pulse, and the one you use depends on the patient’s age and other factors. Certain veins in small children and babies aren’t developed enough for you to feel a pulse reliably. Here are the best methods of taking a pulse based on age.
In adults, the two best arteries to use when taking a pulse are the radial and carotid arteries.
Taking a radial pulse is the most common method used for conscious adults. Follow these steps to take a patient’s radial pulse:
Step 1: Hold the hand out, palm up.
Step 2: Use your index and middle fingers on the wrist just below where the thumb connects with your wrist.
Step 3: At this point, you should notice a subtle but noticeable beat.
Step 4: Use a stopwatch or clock and count the number of beats in a minute.
While the radial pulse is the most commonly used for adults, the carotid artery is also used in certain circumstances. If a patient has a systolic pressure lower than 80 mmHg – for instance, in an emergency situation where the patient is passed out – you won’t be able to feel the radial pulse. Use the following steps:
Step 1: With your index and middle finger, feel around in the area right next to the windpipe until you feel a gentle pulse.
Step 2: Press just hard enough to feel the beat consistently. Pressing too hard can cut off circulation to the brain.
Step 3: Again, count the number of beats in a minute.
In very small children, the radial pulse is often too faint to be useful. Try the carotid or femoral method. You can find the femoral pulse in the groin area, right where the inner thigh meets the hips, in an area called the femoral triangle.
One reason you might want to use the femoral pulse rather than the carotid is that it indicates a patient’s systolic blood pressure is greater than 70 mmHg, which is clinically relevant information.
For infants, the brachial artery is the most effective vessel to use to check heart rate, as their wrists and necks are often too fatty to get a radial or carotid pulse. You can find the brachial pulse by bending the infant’s arm so their hand touches their ear and feeling the inner arm between the shoulder and the elbow.
Range of Healthy Heart Rates
The normal resting heart rate (meaning your heart rate while sitting or lying down) for a normal adult is 60 – 100 beats per minute. Having a heart rate over 100 BPM is known as tachycardia, and having one lower than 60 is known as bradycardia.
Tachycardia can indicate cardiovascular disease or extreme stress. If untreated, it can lead to strokes, blood clots, and even heart attacks. Ideally, most adults should shoot for a resting heart rate below 75.
Bradycardia sometimes occurs in athletes with extremely efficient hearts, in which case it is harmless. However, for some people, ultra-low heart rates can indicate heart defects, thyroid issues, and other health problems.
Children under 12 tend to have faster heart rates than adults. Here are children’s resting heart rate ranges based on age:
- Newborn: 100 – 205
- 30 days – 1 year: 100 – 180
- 1 – 3: 98 – 140
- 3 – 5: 80 – 120
- 6 – 12: 75 – 118
If a child’s heart rate falls above or below the normal range for their age, contact a medical professional.
What to Do If Someone Has No Pulse
In an emergency, first responders and medical personnel may encounter an unresponsive patient with no pulse. If the patient has no pulse, their heart has stopped beating, which could be due to cardiac arrest. This doesn’t mean they are dead, but they do need immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to survive.
In situations like this, quick actions save lives. Make sure everyone on your team is ready for such emergencies by signing up for our CPR certification courses today.