How do I Check my Pulse?

Adam Hill

A person's pulse is the frequency of his heartbeat, usually measured in beats per minute. As the heart pumps blood, the body's primary artery, the aorta, expands and contracts rhythmically along with the heartbeat. These arterial contractions happen throughout the body, also at the same pace at the heartbeat. A person's pulse can be measured at any place where an artery is close enough to the skin for these contractions to be felt. The most common place for a person to measure his own pulse is just below the wrist on the palm side.

An individual's pulse rate, or heart rate, can be measured by finding an artery on the neck.
An individual's pulse rate, or heart rate, can be measured by finding an artery on the neck.

To check a pulse, the first two fingers are placed on the inside of the wrist just below the base of the thumb. If you're inexperienced at taking your pulse, feel around a little until you notice where the pulse is. Looking at a clock or watch with a second hand, count how many beats you feel in ten seconds, and multiply the result by six, to obtain a number of beats per minute. If desired, feel your pulse for a full 60 seconds to get what may be a slightly more accurate number.

The radial pulse is taken on the side of the wrist.
The radial pulse is taken on the side of the wrist.

One of the most important things to remember when taking your pulse is to use your index and middle fingers, rather than your thumb. The reason for this is that the thumb has its own pulse, so when someone feels his pulse using his thumb, the result will be a falsely elevated number that can be very misleading. A person's normal or optimal heart rate depends mainly on his age. Newborns and infants usually have resting heart rates anywhere from 120-140 beats per minute. Children 15 years of age and younger normally have a pulse of 70-100 beats per minute, while adults generally have a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute.

During strenuous exercise, a person may want to focus on reaching his target heart rate, at which the most cardiovascular benefits can be gained. A person's target heart rate is defined as about 60-80% of his predicted maximum heart rate, or the fastest pulse the heart can produce. Predicted maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age. By this, the maximum heart rate of a 25-year-old would be 195. Raising your heart rate above 85% of this maximum rate is not shown to have any real benefit, and can be risky, especially for someone who is elderly or who suffers from a cardiovascular condition.

The normal heart rate range for an infant is 120-160 beats per minute.
The normal heart rate range for an infant is 120-160 beats per minute.

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Discussion Comments


I just found out an interesting fact that makes knowing finding your own pulse so you can find your resting heart rate rather important.

I found out on one of those doctor television shows that if your resting heart rate continues going up each month by a rate of more than 10 beats a month you have increased risk at having heart disease.

I thought this was such a wonderful thing to know because your pulse is something you do not have to go to the doctor to find out, it is easy, and simple and apparently a good indicator of your heart health.


Sometimes it is hard for the nurse to get a true measure of a patient's heart rate and blood pressure. It's called the "white coat syndrome." For some people, just the thought of going into a doctor's office fills them with anxiety and dread.

Their bodies are so physically sensitive to stress, that their pulse and blood pressure go sky high. Nurses and doctors are aware of this and will take the pulse rate and blood pressure later, after the patient tries to settle down.

This doesn't always work, and the numbers still might be higher than their normal rates. It might be a good idea to get a home blood pressure/heart rate cuff and keep daily track of your numbers. In addition, try to find some ways to keep relaxed!


@burcinc - I have no trouble taking my pulse from the wrist or neck. I tried taking it between the big toe and the second toe. I wasn't able to feel the pulse at all. What area in the thigh can you feel the pulse?

I can see why you need to be able to use pulse points other than neck or wrist, depending on where the person is injured. As a CPR instructor, I'm sure you're very good at it.


There are actually quite a few places on the body where we can check our pulse. The wrist and neck are the really well known ones. But it's also possible to check the pulse from the fingers, thigh and feet. As a CPR instructor, I've tried all.

The reason that we teach the wrist and neck method primarily in our classes is because it's easiest to feel the pulse from these places. But not everyone is the same, and especially when there is an injury and blood loss, it can be hard to get the pulse the usual way.

That's why I recommend that people learn a third place where they can check their pulse. I think the artery on the foot is the next best one to use. Just place your fingers on your foot between the big toe and second toe and center it. With some pressure, you will feel it.


I don’t know why, but I can feel my pulse much better in my neck than in my wrist. It beats strong in that area, and that’s where I always place my fingers when I need to check it.

The nurse at my doctor’s office noticed the same thing. She always uses my neck, too. She has commented before on how powerful my pulse feels.

A strong pulse feels like a creature under your skin is pushing upward, trying to touch your fingers. The beat feels like a living thing separate from your own body, though it is really your life force flowing through your veins.


I have checked my pulse on my wrist before, but I prefer to use a blood pressure machine. I have high blood pressure, so I have to check it at home with a machine, and I can see my pulse rate right along with my pressure numbers.

I started taking medication to lower my blood pressure, and it worked a little too well. I started feeling fatigued, and I barely had the energy to walk from my desk to my car. I checked my pressure and saw that it was a low 100 over 60. I also noticed that my pulse rate was only 60!

For me, this was abnormal. Mine usually lay between 75 and 85. I checked with my doctor, and he lowered the dosage of my medicine. My pressure and pulse rate rose back up to the ideal range, and I felt much more energized.


This is unusual, but I have trouble finding my husband’s pulse in his wrist and his neck. I discovered this while trying to check his heart rate during his bout with a fever.

He told me to check his ankle. I looked there, and I could see the skin rising and falling! It was creepy.

He said that his skin is just really thin in that area, and a blood vessel runs through it, so it is very easy to see the rhythm of his heart. I did not even have to touch it. I just watched it for sixty seconds.


I always wondered how nurses could take my pulse in just a few seconds. Now I know that they are multiplying it.

They don’t do this when they check my sister’s pulse. She has an erratic heart rhythm, so multiplying the ten-second pulse number would not give them a correct result. Her heart will beat once slowly, three times rapidly, and twice slowly again, and this rhythm will be mixed in with a steady rhythm at random intervals.

When checking her pulse, the nurse will hold her fingers on the wrist for a full minute. She will wait five minutes, and then she will check it again. This just gives her an idea of how much the rhythm has changed.


If I don't get a strong pulse from my wrist, I check for it in my lower neck. There are main arteries running through both sides of our neck I believe. I place my fingers on one side of my neck (or try the other side if it doesn't work) and apply light pressure until I feel my pulse.

Sometimes my wrist works better, sometimes my neck. I generally have my wrist watch on and count for 15 seconds and multiply that by four. If the pulse rate is between sixty and one hundred sitting down, it's considered normal.

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