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Pulse Measurement

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Your pulse usually has a strong steady or regular rhythm. Your blood vessel should feel soft. An occasional pause or extra beat is normal. Normally, your heart rate will speed up a little when you breathe deeply. You can check this normal change in your pulse rate by changing your breathing pattern while taking your pulse.

Many conditions can change your pulse rate. Your doctor will talk with you about any abnormal results that may be related to your symptoms and past health.

Fast pulse

A fast heart rate may be caused by:

  • Activity or exercise.
  • Anemia.
  • Some medicines, such as decongestants and those used to treat asthma.
  • Fever.
  • Some types of heart disease.
  • An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
  • Stimulants such as caffeine, amphetamines, diet pills, and cigarettes.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Stress.

Slow pulse

A slow resting heart rate may be caused by:

  • Some types of heart disease and medicine to treat heart disease.
  • High levels of fitness.
  • An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Weak pulse

A weak pulse may be caused by:

Heart rate during exercise

Many people use a target heart rate to guide how hard they exercise. Use this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? This tool calculates your target heart rate using your maximum heart rate (based on your age), your resting heart rate, and how active you are.

During exercise, your heart should be working hard enough for a healthy effect but not so hard that your heart is overworked. You benefit the most when your exercise heart rate is within the range of your target heart rate. You can take your pulse rate during or after exercise to see if you are exercising at your target heart rate.

Or you can wear a heart rate monitor during exercise so you do not have to take your pulse. A heart rate monitor shows your pulse rate continuously, so you see how exercise changes your heart rate.

To check your heart rate while exercising:

  1. After exercising for about 10 minutes, stop and take your pulse.
    • Measure your heart rate by placing two fingers gently against your wrist (don't use your thumb). If it is hard to feel the pulse in your wrist, find the artery in your neck that is just to either side of the windpipe. Press gently.
    • Count the beats for 15 seconds. Multiply the number of beats by 4. This is your beats per minute.
  2. Make changes in how hard you exercise so that your heart rate stays within the range of your target heart rate.

Target heart rate is only a guide. Everyone is different, so pay attention to how you feel, how hard you are breathing, how fast your heart is beating, and how much you feel the exertion in your muscles.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 26, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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