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'Pulse' of the Problem

Updated on May 17, 2013

Feel your pulse to know your Heart !

The Pulse is the tactile palpation of the heart beat by the fingertips. It is commonly felt on the radial artery near the wrist. It can also be felt on other arteries at the neck, behind the knee, dorsum of the foot etc. Counting the pulse is equivalent to measuring the heart rate. It is also a convenient method of determining the systolic(contraction phase of heartbeat) blood pressure. The pressure waves generated by the heart in systole move the arterial walls. The forward movement of blood occurs when the arterial walls are pliable and compliant. The diastolic(relaxation phase of heartbeat) blood pressure, occurring between heartbeats is not palpable.

Galen first described the pulse. The normal pulse rate in adults is described as 72 beats per minute but varies between 60 to 100. There are several patterns of pulse which are of significance. The pattern of a strong pulse followed by a weak pulse repeatedly(pulsus alternans) indicates progressive heart failure. If two pulses are observed to each heartbeat instead of one, it indicates aortic(one of the heart valves) valve disease. If there is a slowing of the normal rise in the pulse in systole(Anacrotic pulse), it signifies a stiff aortic valve requiring increased blood pressure to open the valve. In Pulsus Paradoxus, some heartbeats cannot be detected during the inspiratory phase of respiration. It is caused by a decrease in the blood pressure and is diagnostic of a variety of heart and respiratory conditions.

There are many physiological variations in the pulse rate. It is normally high in infants and children(80 to 130). It is high after exercise and is increased during excitement, fear, anxiety and similar emotions. The pulse rate is high in fevers, high blood pressure(bounding pulse), sepsis and other medical disorders. The pulse is weak with increased rate, in dehydration, loss of blood etc which is an ominous sign signalling immediate medical help. If the pulse is absent or barely palpable, it could be a medical emergency needing immediate hospitalization.

The pulse near the wrist tells us so much ! Do not hesitate to feel the pulse, if not anything, it will tell if the spark of life is still glowing !


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