One of the basic tricks to figure out if someone is healthy or not is to check their pulse. A PULSE, by definition, refers to the TACTILE ARTERIAL PALPATION of the heartbeat – in laymen terms, it is the number of times the heartbeats. This is of crucial importance since the entire sustainability of an individual relies on the way their heartbeats and at what rate.
A PULSE RATE is the number of heartbeats in a minute. For a normal person, this is in the range of 60 to 100 (per minute), but in the case of people stricken with illnesses, it might be higher or lower than this standard value. Usually, a general physician checks the pulse of a person before continuing the rest of the examination – in this case, an abnormal pulse acts as the first sign of an ailment.
What are the consequences of an abnormal pulse rate?
Bradycardia is a condition that manifests as slower than the normal pulse, i.e., lower than 60 beats per minute. It causes symptoms like fatigue, chest pains, dizziness and shortness of breath to mention a few.
It is necessary to follow-up on a condition like bradycardia since it usually implicates a more severe cardiac (related to the heart) condition – such as hypothyroidism (inactive thyroid gland), congenital heart defect, imbalance of nutrients and myocarditis (heart tissue infection).
Tachycardia is a disorder where pulse higher than the normal value, which is 100 beats a minute, is observed. Its symptoms are like that of bradycardia and checking the pulse rate is the only way to differentiate between the two.
Tachycardia should be monitored due to its relation to various major disorders such as damaged heart tissues, anemia, alcohol poisoning, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), hypertension and drug poisoning.
How to measure the pulse rate?
While one might need trained fingertips to check someone’s pulse, it takes a short time for this training and to gain sensitivity at the fingertips. To take someone’s pulse, place the index and third fingers on the wrist, right under the line of the thumb – this region is easily identified as being between the bone and the tendon. Count the thumps felt for 15 seconds and multiply this value to get the pulse rate.
Why is the pulse checked at the wrist?
Since the shortest way of expecting a disease is by measuring the pulse, it is crucial to understand the mechanism of the same. Circling back to the definition of a pulse – tactile arterial palpation – can help one understand why the wrist acts as a suitable spot to check the pulse on.
The heart pumps blood throughout the body via a series of expansions and contractions of the ARTERIES. Conformational change in the arteries clubbed with the pressure under which the blood flows through them, produces a thump at various places on the body. In places on our body where the artery comes in close contact with the upper layer of the skin, the pulse can be checked there. So, at the wrist, an artery is present right under the skin, which lets one feel the thumping of the heartbeats and thus take the pulse. Thus, the pulse is called the RADIAL PULSE. Is the wrist the only part of the body on which the pulse can be felt? No.
While the pulse, if taken from different parts of the body would be the same, different terminologies have been attributed to it. Still, the wrist and the neck region are the best spots for the pulse to be checked in terms of accessibility and sensitivity. If the pulse is taken at the neck region, it is called the CAROTID PULSE – and it can be checked at the temples, inside of the elbow, behind the knees, top of the foot and the groin region.