What is a Neck Pulse?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 14 May 2020
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In medicine, a pulse can be felt anywhere on a person's body where an artery passes close to the skin. Taking a pulse can determine a person's heart rate, which is the rate at which the heart beats. A doctor may also take a patient's pulse to determine important factors about their health. A neck pulse, also known as a carotid pulse, is the pulse that can be felt on a persons neck next to their throat. Other places to feel for a pulse include the wrist, behind the knee, and on the inside of the elbow.

When the left ventricle in the heart contracts, it pumps blood through the aorta to all of the major arteries in the body. As the blood is rushed through the arteries, it produces a bulge in that artery. Each bulge felt is equal to one heart beat. Bulges in the carotid artery are felt when checking a neck pulse. This artery is responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the brain.

To feel a neck pulse, the index and middle fingers are used. These fingers are placed on the soft spot on the side of the neck next to the Adam's apple, or the front of the throat. Gentle pressure is applied until a neck pulse can be felt. Do not press hard on the side of the neck when checking for a neck pulse. Also, never press on both sides of the neck when checking a neck pulse — this can cause certain people to pass out.

A person's pulse rate can determine a heart rate. An average resting heart rate in adult humans is typically between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Many conditioned athletes, however, may have resting heart rates that are much lower. There are a few ways to calculate a heart rate using a neck pulse. The first way is to count the pulses felt in the neck for exactly one minute; the number of pulses felt is the heart rate. Estimating a heart rate can be done by counting the pulses for 30 seconds and multiplying that number by two, or counting the pulses for fifteen minutes and multiplying that number by four. An easier way to estimate a heart rate is to count the beats for six seconds and add a zero to that number. Estimating a heart rate, however, is not entirely accurate.

To understand pulses and heart rates, a basic knowledge of how the heart works is necessary first. Blood from the body enters the heart through two veins to get reoxygenated. The superior vena cava brings in blood from the upper half of the body, and the inferior vena cava brings in blood from the lower half of the body. Blood then enters the right ventricle through the tricuspid valve, and travels to the lungs through the pulmonary artery to pick up oxygen. When it returns to the heart from the lungs, it comes in through the pulmonary veins and into the left atrium. From there, the blood goes through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle. The left ventricle is responsible for pumping blood to the body.

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