Pulse rate can be defined as the frequency at which the heart beats. It's nothing but the measure of contraction and relaxation of the heart in one minute. In medical terms, pulse is an arterial palpation of heartbeat. Pulse rate in human beings, along with body temperature, respiration rate and blood pressure, is a vital sign of indication of a person's health.
It tells us how healthy or stressed out a person is. The fitter the person is, the lower will be his/her pulse rate reading. Higher than normal pulse rate in humans can be an indicator of an infection or even increased risk for strokes, ischemic heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia, etc. This is why it is very important to check one's pulse rate every now and then. Measuring the pulse rate can be done easily at home, however, for this one needs to know what the normal reading is.
Normal Pulse Rate for Humans
We need to measure the resting pulse rate, to find out whether a person's pulse rate is within the normal range. Resting pulse rate is nothing but the pulse rate measured after 10 minutes of resting, or a state of complete rest. On an average the resting pulse rate for an adult is between 60-100 beats/minute. However, a reading above 90 beats/minute is considerably high and should be looked into.
Factors Determining Normal Pulse Rate
The pulse rate varies from one person to another. The various factors that determine pulse rate for humans is as follows:
⇨ Age & Gender
Newborns have a higher pulse rate, as compared to older children or adults. Moreover, women have a higher resting pulse rate as compared to men.
⇨ Fitness Level
Those involved in fitness training and sports have a lower pulse rate. The fitter the person is, the lower the pulse rate. This is because exercise improves heart health. The heart muscles are in better shape in active individuals, and don't need to work so hard to maintain steady heart beats. The heart can pump more blood with each heartbeat.
Obese individuals may find their pulse rates to be higher. This is because the larger the body, the more blood has to be pumped, and the more load on the heart.
⇨ State of Mind
Stressed lifestyle or emotional trauma can also cause the pulse rate to rise. Thus, mental and emotional health also play a significant role in determining the pulse rate.
Intake of various medicines, especially beta blockers can cause the pulse rate to drop below 60.
⇨ Time and Activity
Pulse rate increases after meals, during sex, and exercise. During exercise, the body requires more oxygen and the heart beats faster to pump more blood to the muscles of the body. This is why the heart rate is higher during and just after exercise. The pulse rate does not remain constant throughout the day even in a healthy individual. It deviates according to the activities of an individual.
⇨ Medical Condition
Those have heart diseases, high blood pressure or diabetes, can have a higher pulse rate. Besides, certain medical disorders also bring about variations in the pulse rate, either temporary or long term. This is the reason the pulse rate is used as a diagnostic aid for medical disorders.
During pregnancy, the heart is trying to pump more blood, with each beat, for fetal development. This raises the pulse rate during pregnancy.
How do I Check my Pulse Rate?
▶ The most accurate method of checking the pulse rate is by getting an ECG (electrocardiograph) done. Nevertheless, it can also be checked by you at home. It may not be 100% accurate, but it's still good enough.
▶ The pulse can be felt in all the regions where the artery can be pressed against the bone. The regions where pulse can be easily felt are the neck (carotid artery), wrist (radial artery), back of the knee (popliteal artery), inside of the elbow (brachial artery) and near the ankle joint (posterior tibial artery). Apical pulse rate is the pulse rate that is calculated directly by measuring the heartbeats.
▶ Since the arteries in the neck (carotid pulse) and wrist (radial pulse) region pass close to the surface of the skin, finding the pulse in these regions is relatively easier. Applying slight pressure on these arteries will help you feel the pulse rate.
▶ To locate your pulse, place your index and middle finger on the wrist of your left arm, palm-side facing up. Press gently and try locating the pulse. If you can't feel anything, apply a little more pressure or try moving your fingers around the area.
▶ Once you find the pulse, count the number of beats in one minute.
▶ The best time to measure pulse rate is in the morning, when one has had enough rest and sleep. However, make sure you take it first thing in the morning.
Variations from Normal Pulse Rate
Certain medical conditions may cause the pulse rate to accelerate or slowdown. The following two conditions indicate abnormalities with the functioning of heart.
Bradycardia (Heart Slowness)
Bradycardia is a condition when the heartbeat falls below 60 BPM. It may be a normal condition for athletes and is asymptomatic unless there is a major drop in the pulse rate. A pulse rate below 50 BPM, in resting phase can still be normal for some individuals, particularly if there are no symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations etc., associated with it.
Tachycardia (Accelerated Heart Rate)
Tachycardia is a condition when the heart tends to pump faster than normal. Rapid pumping results in poor circulation and insufficient blood supply to the parts of body. Rapid heart rate varies as per the age of an individual. However, a pulse rate above 120 BPM in adults, at resting state, is worthy of medical intervention. The increased pumping rate accelerates the demand for more oxygen supply. Tachycardia often results in several chronic heart diseases.
Physicians can recommend an appropriate exercise regimen by checking the pulse rate. However, it would be unwise to predict the medical condition of an individual by examining the pulse rate alone. Hence, pulse rate should only be used as a basic diagnostic aid, before going for the advanced ones. Leading an active and healthy lifestyle can help maintain healthy pulse rates in humans.