Know Your Pulse!
Why knowing your own pulse could save your life!
As it’s Valentine’s day this week I dare say there will be lots of adverts telling us to ‘melt someone’s heart’ with some (no doubt rather commercialised) shows of affection. We often talk about our hearts when thinking about love and romance. The idea of sending someone’s heart racing is nothing new. But how aware are we of our own heart beat (pulse)? In my experience of working with cardiac patients, I would say the answer is not very. So what is considered normal? What should a healthy pulse feel like? And how might you tell if there is a problem?
What is normal?
A normal resting heart rate in adults is generally accepted as being between 60-99bpm. (Although this can vary if you are taking certain medications such as beta blockers). In most healthy adults a normal pulse should feel strong and regular.
What is Tachycardia?
This is when your heart beats at a faster rate than normal (over 100bpm). Different things can influence heart rate such as caffeine or stress. But it could also be a sign of something more sinister such as high blood pressure or even heart disease. Tachycardia isn’t something to ignore, so if you notice your heart rate is regularly running high at rest, go and speak to your GP, particularly if you are feeling unwell.
What is Bradycardia?
This is when your heart beats at a slower pace than normal (generally accepted as anything under 60bpm). There are exceptions however. Some individuals who are very physically fit may have a naturally lower heart rate. Certain medications may also mean you have a lower than normal heart rate (such as beta blockers). However, for the average adult, a resting heart rate lower than 60bpm is not considered normal, and should be checked out with your GP particularly if you notice feeling tired, unwell, or suffer with light headedness.
How important is rhythm?
Being familiar with your own pulse rate and rhythm could actually save your life. AF (atrial fibrillation) is a condition where the heartbeat becomes irregular. This is caused by abnormal firing of electrical impulses causing the atria (the top chambers of the heart) to quiver.
The most common symptom is feeling a fluttering of the heart in the chest. Other side effects can include fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Many people however have no symptoms at all.
AF is said to affect 1.5 million people in the UK. However, despite the availability of free and simple checks, it is estimated that around half of those living with AF remain undetected!
This is concerning as left untreated, a person with AF is 5 times more likely to suffer from a stroke. In fact it is estimated that someone suffers an AF related stroke every 15 seconds. These strokes also tend to be more severe due to the size of the clots that form and go on to block the blood vessels in the brain. As a result, AF related strokes are more likely to lead to much greater levels of disability or even fatality.
Don’t panic, It’s not all doom and gloom!
- Not all irregular rhythms are due to AF. Some people suffer with palpitations which can be caused by caffeine, stress or periods of anxiety. These are fairly common and usually pretty harmless, but if they persist you should go and see your GP even if you do not feel unwell.
- By getting to know your pulse and checking it every so often, you can detect abnormal rhythms such as AF early and seek appropriate treatment from your GP.
So how do I check my pulse?
Hold out your hand, palm facing up. Take off your watch if you are wearing one. With the other hand, place your index finger and two middle fingers on your wrist between the bony edge and the stringy tendon attached to your thumb. Count for 60 seconds and record the number. This is your heart rate. This should feel strong and regular.
When is the best time to take my pulse?
You heart rate will vary throughout the day depending on what you are doing, so it can be an idea to check your pulse at various times. However to establish your baseline, it’s best to check it first thing in the morning on waking, and last thing at night before going to sleep.
Where can I find out more?
Below is a link to the Arrhythmia Alliance website with more information and a fantastic video showing you how to check your pulse with the mysterious man of action himself Mr. Roger Moore. I encourage you to have a look. Who knows, it might just save your life.
How can I help others?
We want to raise awareness as far and wide as possible, so please join us in spreading the word. Whether you share our blog on social media, or just talk to people it doesn’t matter. Let’s get the word out there and help save lives.
Zoe Noble (WSP)