Weak pulse

Alternative names
Pulse - weak or absent; Absent pulse

Difficulty in feeling a pulse or an inability to detect a pulse at all.

An absent or weak pulse may affect one limb or affect the whole body.

The absence of a pulse as determined by a lay person may not indicate a problem. Sometimes the process itself of feeling for a pulse (such as in the wrist) can make a pulse hard to detect.

Common Causes

  • Improper technique used to feel for the pulse  
  • Normally weak pulse that is difficult to measure without proper instruments  
  • Shock  
  • Cardiac arrest (lack of an effective heartbeat)

Home Care
Follow the treatment prescribed by your health care provider. CPR may be necessary!

Call your health care provider if

  • There is any sudden, severe, or persistent decrease in the pulse quality or rate, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms.  
  • Shock is suspected. This can be life-threatening. Take emergency measures now!

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
Your medical provider will obtain a medical history, do a physical exam, and ask questions like:

  • Is the pulse weak?  
  • Is it absent?  
  • Is the pulse weak or absent in only one location?  
  • Is a major pulse weak or absent (for example, when checking the carotid pulse in the neck)?  
  • What other symptoms are also present?

Physical examination may include monitoring of the vital signs (pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure). Emergency measures will be taken as necessary. Continued monitoring may be necessary.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Aortography  
  • Arteriography such as extremity arteriography  
  • Doppler ultrasonography  
  • Blood studies (CBC or blood differential)  
  • ECG  
  • Echocardiography  
  • X-rays of the chest


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.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.