How To Determine the Pulse

Use the Proper Method to Take a Pulse Rate

doctor checking a patients pulse
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The pulse is the surge of blood that is pushed through the arteries when the heart beats. The pulse rate is how many times one can feel a pulse every minute. The pulse rate is a vital sign that can tell a lot about a victim's medical condition.

The pulse rate changes with exercise, so healthcare providers like to compare resting pulse rates, which should always be between 60-90 beats per minute. A resting pulse rate of more than 90 beats per minute may indicate a problem such as dehydration.

Extremely fast pulses -- more than 150 beats per minute -- or slow pulses of less than 50 per minute can indicate problems with the heart.

Besides the pulse rate, other indicators of how a person is doing come from the regularity and strength of the pulse. A weak or irregular pulse can also be an indication of dehydration or heart issues.

Steps to Determine the Pulse Rate

  1. Stay Safe. If you are not the patient, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
  2. Locate the pulse. Have the patient hold his or her hand out, palm up. Use two fingers (index and middle) to locate the pulse on the wrist at the base of the thumb. The pulse feels like a rhythmic thumping.
  3. Count the beats. Using a clock or watch with a second hand, time yourself counting the pulsating beats for 15 seconds.
  4. Calculate the pulse rate. Multiply the pulses you counted in 15 seconds by 4 to get the pulse rate. For the mathematically challenged (like me), here are common pulse rates based on a 15-second count:
    • 12 pulses = rate of 48
    • 13 pulses = rate of 52
    • 14 pulses = rate of 56
    • 15 pulses = rate of 60
    • 16 pulses = rate of 64
    • 17 pulses = rate of 68
    • 18 pulses = rate of 72
    • 19 pulses = rate of 76
    • 20 pulses = rate of 80
    • 25 pulses = rate of 100
    • 26 pulses = rate of 104
    • 27 pulses = rate of 108
    • 28 pulses = rate of 112
    • 29 pulses = rate of 116
    • 30 pulses = rate of 120


    1. Never use your thumb to take a pulse. In most people, there is a pulse in the thumb that can interfere with the one you're trying to feel in the patient, and thumbs aren't as sensitive as the other fingers.
    2. The rate of the pulse is only part of the story. The quality of the pulse is also important. When taking a pulse rate, make a note of the strength of the pulse and whether it is regular or erratic. An irregular or weak pulse can tell medical providers important information about a patient's condition.
    1. The pulse in the wrist is called the radial pulse, but pulses can also be felt in the neck, upper arm, groin, ankle and foot.

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