If you place the first three fingers of your hand on the inside of your wrist, a dull throbbing reverberates through your hand. Da-dub, da-dub, da-dub. Very reassuring, these gentle thuds, that remind us that our bodies are kicking along, and that, at least at last touch, we’re alive and well.
By pulse we mean the regular throbbing of arteries caused by the successive contractions of the heart. During the action of the heart there is a pause. During this pause, the wall of the aorta contracts. The aorta is the great trunk artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
This contraction forces the excess blood to proceed along the arteries. This alternate expansion and contraction of the aorta produces a throbbing in the arteries. And this throbbing – which can be felt at many points in the body – through the skin, is called pulse.
The pulse can be felt by placing fingers on the inside of the wrist over the radical artery. It can also be felt at the temples where we have the temporal artery or at other places where an artery is near the surface of the skin.
The pulse cannot be felt in the veins because the blood reaches them from the arteries by passing through narrow capillaries.
Now the question arises. Why does a nurse or doctor examine the pulse of a patient?
When a doctor checks the pulse, beats are counted for a minute. Since the rate of contractions felt at the wrist would be same as the heart rate, the pulse tells us about the health of the heart.
The pulse rate depends on the blood requirement of the body. This rate indicates how fast the heart is beating and the state of pressure in the circulatory system. An irregular pulse rate indicates some abnormality in the functioning of the heart.
The number of pulsations per minute normally varies from 78 to 82 among women and from 70 to 72 among men. Abnormalities in the pulse rate often indicate specific disorders of the heart and circulatory system.
The pulse rate in children is much higher than in healthy adults. The normal rate for a seven-year-old child is 90 beats per minute. A newborn baby’s pulse rate is double that of an adult male, about 140. At the other end, elderly people can have a pulse rate as slow as 50-65.