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Heart Disease and the Doctor's Exam

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Some standard and simple exam techniques provide your doctor with the first clues as to how your heart functions and whether you have heart disease. During your visit, your doctor will listen to your heart, take your heart rate, and check your blood pressure.

Checking Your Heart Rate

Your doctor feels your pulse in order to check your heart's rate and rhythm. Each pulse matches up with a heartbeat that pumps blood into the arteries. The force of the pulse also helps evaluate the amount (strength) of blood flow to different areas of your body.

You can tell how fast your heart is beating (heart rate) by feeling your pulse. Your heart rate is the amount of times your heart beats in one minute.

To measure your pulse, all you need is a watch with a second hand.

  • Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers.
  • Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds.
  • Multiply that number by six to find out your heart rate for one minute (pulse in 10 seconds x six = ____ beats per minute)

When feeling your pulse, you can also tell if your heart rhythm is regular or not.

Checking Your Heartbeat

Your doctor listens to your heartbeat with the aid of a stethoscope. The opening and closing of your valves make a "lub dub" noise known as heart sounds. The doctor can evaluate your heart and valve function and hear your heart's rate and rhythm by listening to your heart sounds.

Checking Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force or pressure exerted in the arteries by the blood as it is pumped around the body by the heart. It is recorded as two measurements:

  • Systolic blood pressure. Pressure in the arteries during the period of the heart's contraction (the higher number)
  • Diastolic blood pressure. Pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxed, between heartbeats (the lower number)

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which refers to how high the pressure in the arteries can raise a column of mercury in a sphygmomanometer, a device for measuring blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure for an adult, relaxed at rest, is less than or equal to 140 over 90. The 140 is the systolic pressure; the diastolic pressure is 90. Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting to find out your typical value.

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