Blood, which supplies all the cells in the human body with nutrients and oxygen, flows through the vessels due to the pumping of the heart. Thus, blood flow directly transmits the force generated by every heartbeat. As the blood ejected by the heart causes the arteries to “pulse” by stretching and relaxing. As some pulses can be felt over the skin, they are very useful in patient examinations, especially a clinical exam of the cardiovascular system. Although people commonly know how to take a pulse from the wrist or neck, there are many more places a pulse can be taken from.
- Radial pulse: Taken from the inside of the wrist on the side of the thumb.
- Brachial pulse: Taken from the inside of the elbow.
- Carotid pulse: Taken from where the neck meets the jawline, or 2~3cm either side of the Adam’s apple to be precise.
- Apex beat: This measures the heartbeats directly, taken on the left chest between the 4th and 6th ribs (around the left nipple).
- Abdominal pulse: Taken from above the belly button of a lying patient, may be able to see the pulse.
- Femoral pulse: Taken from the middle of the groin.
- Popliteal pulse: Taken from the inside of the knee.
- Posterior tibial pulse: Taken from the inside of the ankle behind the bone.
- Dorsalis pedis pulse: Taken from the back (upper side) of the foot along the middle.
When taking a pulse, you use your second and third fingers (and the fourth if you want) and press lightly on the pulse point. If you press too hard, you may stop the blood flow and obliterate the pulse. As a pulse is measured per-minute, it is often taken for 10 or 15 seconds and multiplied by 6 or 4 respectively. Also, it should be noted whether the pulse has a regular rhythm, and if it is irregular, whether it is regularly irregular or irregularly irregular. If the pulse is over 100 beats per minute, it is called tachycardia, while less than 60 beats per minute is referred to as bradycardia. If it is irregular, it is called an arrhythmia.
An experienced doctor can diagnose different conditions such as an aortic stenosis or atrial fibrillation just from taking the pulse of the patient. Taking a pulse is also a crucial diagnostic tool in traditional Korean and Chinese medicine.