How To Check for a Pulse

When you see someone unconscious, or when you encounter an accident, the first thing you will instinctively do is look for a pulse. This is one sure sign that someone is still alive. If one has a weak pulse, though, it’s a sign that he might be struggling for his life. Sometimes, a pulse is too weak that it cannot be felt—this is particularly the case for someone in a very critical condition.

Apart from emergency situations, checking for a pulse can also come in handy during exercise or physical training. One’s heart rate can be deduced from how many times the pulse beats in a minute.

Checking for a pulse is easy if you know how. Here is a short guide on how to check for a pulse.

  • The pulse is best felt from the left wrist of a person, which is the artery arm.
  • You can best check for a pulse using your fingertips. However, you shouldn’t use your thumb, since you might be mixing in the feel of your own pulse with that of the patient.
  • Use two fingers—the index and middle fingers—of your right hand and put these over the inner wrist of the patient.
  • Press your thumb against the outer wrist of the patient as you check the pulse.
  • Feel the patient’s pulse as you apply pressure with your index finger. Let your middle finger lightly touch the skin.
  • The moment you feel a pulse, look at a watch or clock and start counting the beats in relation to a reference point on the clock. You will need to count how many heartbeats the patient has in 15 seconds.
  • Multiply the number by four, since a minute has 60 seconds. However, if you want a more accurate count—and if you can wait that long—you should count the number of beats for a whole minute.
  • The normal heart rate is about 72 beats per minute (bpm) while resting. However, anywhere from 60 to 100 bpm is still within the normal range. A person’s heart beats faster during stress and during heavy physical activity. One usually has a lower heart rate while at rest or when sleeping.
  • Apart from the heart rate, you will also need to check for the regularity of rhythm. An irregular pulse will mean something is wrong. The patient might have a heart condition, or might be undergoing cardiac arrest.

Sometimes, checking for the pulse on the radial artery (on the wrist) might be difficult. You can find alternative pulse points. For example, you can check the carotid artery, which is located beneath the jawline, near the adam’s apple. You can also try the brachial artery, which is in the inside of the elbow, or the dorsalis pedis, which is on the inner ankle, near the foot.

When checking a patient’s pulse, be sure not to squeeze his artery hand, as this can restrict blood flow and circulation to the hand. Also, try warming up your hands before touching the patient, as cold, clammy hands can be uncomfortable.


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