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What is Pulse Rate?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The pulse rate is the number of times in a minute that an artery pulsates, indicating that a heartbeat has occurred. Measurements of it are routinely taken whenever a patient enters a hospital, clinic, or doctor's office for medical attention, as the pulse provides important information about the patient's general health and condition. Some people also like to monitor their own pulses to keep track of their health and to monitor the progress of exercise programs. Many gyms and other athletic facilities even post reminders asking people to check their pulses.

To take someone's pulse, an area where a pulsating artery is located so that the number of pulses can be counted. The wrist and throat are popular locations because they are easy to access. In adults, the normal resting pulse rate is around 60-100 per minute, while athletes have a lower rate of 40-60 per minute. The pulse rate can be elevated when someone has exercised, and in fact an elevated rate is desired, because it indicates that the heart is working harder, conditioning the cardiovascular system.

People may use the terms “pulse rate” and “heart rate” interchangeably. In fact, the pulse can differ from the heart rate in the case of certain medical conditions, although in most people, the two measurements will be the same. For this reason, people often take their pulse to arrive at an estimate of their heart rate, assuming that their arteries are pulsing every time the heart beats.

An unusually low or high pulse rate can indicate that a patient is experiencing medical problems. A number of things can influence the rate at which the heart beats, including stress, medications, exercise, and tension. In addition to the rate, people may also assess the quality of the pulse, looking for signs of a problem like an irregular, weak, or thready pulse, which indicates that the heart is not functioning normally.

When someone is hospitalized, he or she often wears a pulse rate monitor which provides constant information for medical providers. This monitor may trigger an alarm if the pulse changes radically, alerting hospital staff to a problem. People with medical conditions which involve their hearts may be encouraged by their doctors to check their pulses regularly, to monitor heart health. Athletes and exercisers also check their resting pulses as well as their pulses after exercise to keep an eye on their cardiovascular health.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By chrisinbama — On Jul 04, 2010

@cmsmith10:A weak or thready pulse can be cause by a number of conditions. Symptoms that normally accompany a weak pulse can be fainting, dizziness, weakness, sweating, fatigue, or weight gain. The most common cause of a weak or thready pulse is low blood pressure. It can be caused from a loss of fluids or blood, malnutrition, vomiting, dehydration, or medication overdose. Anything that diminishes the forward flow of blood can produce a weak pulse.

Congestive heart failure is often association with a weak pulse. A diseased heart is not able to pump sufficient blood or oxygen to the rest of the body. This can cause a backup of blood in the heart and lungs. In this case, the pulse is likely to be weak or faint.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 04, 2010

My mother was recently hospitalized and was told she had a weak and thready pulse. What does that mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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