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Low Pulse Rate

Updated on February 3, 2010

Slow Pulse Rate Has Meaning

Is your pulse rate on the low side? Are you worried or maybe just wondering about what it means? At what point is low "too" low? When your pulse rate is slow is your energy level low also? Does your low pulse rate make the nurse comment favorably on how good of shape you must be in even though you know you are in terrible shape? This is not an exhaustive encyclopedia of everything you could possibly know about pulse rates, even low pulse rates...but you may find most of the answers you seek right here so feel free to bookmark this page if it helps and click on the rating stars to tell others whether it is worth reading or not. There is some interesting and encouraging information for us lower pulse people. There is also some serious stuff worth having checked out by a doctor if it applies. Since my normal resting pulse is in the 40's and I'm definitely no athlete let me boil a bunch of studies down to some quick condensed answers.

What is the pulse?

When the heart beats it causes a "pulse" through the arteries. There are all kinds of tools available for measuring how many pulses happen per minute. This pulse rate, except in rare cases, is essentially equal to the heart beats per minute or "heart rate". So putting pressure on any artery where pulsations can be felt and counting how many pulsations occur in one minute (or count for 15 seconds and multiply it times 4) gives us this magic number. (If you measure this "by hand" use your first two fingers, don't use your thumb it has a beat of its own that will mess up your count).

When the medical professionals check the pulse they look for many things besides just the rate such as whether the spacing between the pulse is regular or not, whether the pulse is strong or weak, the stiffness of the veins...all kinds of things that may give them a clue about how normal the heart is functioning. But that isn't our topic. As far as we're concerned in this is "what is the pulse" and that for us is the heartbeats felt in the arteries per minute.

The heart changes speed all the time depending on everything from how much coffee or nicotine you had, whether or not you just climbed a flight of stairs, what kind of drugs (legal or illegal) you are taking and when, how nervous you are...the list goes on. So in this study of "low pulse rate" the focus here is your "resting" pulse rate. This is when you are relaxed and rested from exerting yourself and not excited or even actively worrying.

Counting Your Pulse

Sit Down and Relax Before Counting

These days since people use their pulse rates to determine their exercise intensity the market is flooded with all kinds of gadgets that will check your pulse while sitting, running, cycling, walking...you get the idea. For simplicity sake though just take your first two fingers...the pointing finger and the birdie finger and push lightly on an artery that pulses such as your wrist, neck (against the windpipe is often good), until you feel the pulsing. (Feel around pushing lightly until you find a good pulsing spot). The Carotid artery in the neck, the underside of the wrist (on the thumb side), behind the knee, the temple...you'll find one, just don't use your thumb to press with.

Feel it? Now start the timer and start counting. A second hand on a clock or watch, a stopwatch, anything that counts seconds accurately. You can time for the entire minute if you want to but it isn't needed...count for 30 seconds and multiply times two to get how many pulses per minute, or count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get how many pulses per minute, etc.

Normal Resting Pulse Rates

How many pulses per minute did You count?

Chances are if you are reading this article you already have a number in your head, maybe from your last doctor visit, or from checking it just now, and the next question is..."Is that good?" or even "How bad is that?". Well, pulse varies from person to person blah blah blah but there is a "range" that is generally the zone where the doctor doesn't even raise an eyebrow. Remember now and this is important, this is the Resting Pulse. Not the stressed out, tense, in your 15th flight of stairs pulse.

Age and fitness level matter. A baby's pulse rate is said to be normal anywhere between 100 and 160 beats per minute!! As they hit one year old and older that "normal" range starts dropping down towards the 70-120 ballpark. After a person reaches 10 or 15 years old they reach the "adult" range which is considered "normal" in the 60-90bpm bracket. Unless a person is pretty athletically fit in which case the "normal" range can be from 40bpm - 60bpm.

Athletes have a lower pulse because the heart, being a muscle, is in better shape and able to work more efficiently. That means it pumps more volume of blood per beat and doesn't have to work as fast and furious to get its job done. Isn't that great news to us low pulse rate people? (My pulse just now measured 49 which is at the higher end of my usual). Doesn't a count in the forties basically mean that I am in excellent physical shape? Ha. I'm a good 50 pounds overweight and even though my blood pressure is great and I can easily walk a few miles without stopping...that isn't what the medical community would call great physical condition. In fact on days my pulse is closer to 40 than 50 are my "low energy" and "low air" days. So in this next section it is time to face some discoveries and truths about genuine low pulse issues.

Bradycardia (Greek for "heart slowness")

The Slower Than 60-BPM Pulse

Many different medical conditions can cause a low pulse rate, some of these can lead to the heart stopping. So if your resting pulse rate is lower than average, and you're not in athlete like condition, definitely make a visit to your doctor.

Bradycardia is defined as a resting heart rate below 60 beats per minute but it may not show symptoms until below 50 bpm . So by "technical definition" people in great shape fit the "bradycardia" label but it isn't considered abnormal if the individual has no symptoms associated with it...like dizziness, fainting spells, chest discomfort, shortness of breath. So don't be unnecessarily alarmed by a label...low pulse rate can be a good thing, an efficient heart. Yet it can also be caused by anything from low potassium levels to a variety of diseases, brain injuries, and quite commonly though often overlooked...low thyroid. (Low thyroid can also cause a variety of issues including cholesterol problems).

Back in 2002 or thereabout the AACE did a major reworking of what they consider "the normal" range for the TSH blood tests which determine whether or not the thyroid is functioning as it should. Sadly so many doctors are unaware of this that it might even encompass a "majority". The no longer accurate blood lab results still show 0.5 to 5 as the normal range. Under the new guidelines thyroid treatment should be considered when TSH levels test outside the 0.3 to 3.0 range.

Hopefully your low or slow pulse rate is a sign of a very efficient healthy heart that just pumps more per beat and therefore doesn't need to be in a hurry. Especially if your blood pressure is good and your "bradycardia" or "slow heart" isn't with other symptoms or causes. Since I'm already on thyroid medication personally on my "slower" days I tend to add caffeine and a pseudophedrine to get a boost...but I'm not recommending that to anybody else because if you do have a heart condition or blood pressure problem...that little boost would do you more harm than good.

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thumbs up!

      Great lens... very informative. Thanks for the good read.

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