Alternative names
Heart rate; Heart beat

The pulse is the number of heartbeats per minute.

How the test is performed

The pulse is measured at the wrist, neck, temple, groin, behind the knees, or on top of the foot. In these areas, an artery passes close to the skin.

To measure the pulse at the wrist, place the index and middle finger over the underside of the opposite wrist, below the base of the thumb. Press firmly with flat fingers until you feel the pulse. To measure the pulse on the neck, place the index and middle finger just to the side of the Adam’s apple, in the soft, hollow area. Press firmly until the pulse is located.

Once you find the pulse, count the beats for 1 full minute, or for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This will give the beats per minute.

How to prepare for the test
If the resting heart rate is to be determined, you must have been resting for at least 10 minutes. The exercise heart rate is obtained while you are exercising.

How the test will feel
There is a slight pressure from the fingers.

Why the test is performed

Measuring the pulse can give very important information about the health of a person. Any deviation from normal heart rate can indicate a medical condition. Fast pulse may signal the presence of an infection or dehydration. In emergency situations, the pulse rate can help determine if the patient’s heart is pumping.

The pulse measurement has other uses as well. During exercise or immediately after exercise, the pulse rate can give information about the fitness level and the health of a person.

Normal Values
For resting heart rate:

  • newborn infants; 100 to 160 beats per minute  
  • children 1 to 10 years; 70 to 120 beats per minute  
  • children over 10 and adults; 60 to 100 beats per minute  
  • well-trained athletes; 40 to 60 beats per minute

What abnormal results mean

Resting heart rates that are consistently high (tachycardia) may indicate a problem, and you should consult a health care provider. Discuss resting heart rates that are below the normal values (bradycardia) with a health care provider.

Also, discuss a pulse that is very firm (bounding pulse) and that lasts for more than a few minutes with the health care provider. An irregular pulse can also indicate a problem. (See heartbeat sensations.)

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.