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As a nurse, I’m often surprised at the number of people who don’t know how to take their own pulse.  I have to remind myself that, for someone who doesn’t do it every day, it can be a little tricky.  By the time you finish reading this, you’ll know exactly how to take your own pulse.

But before we get into the how, let’s talk about the why.  Why is it important to know how to check your own pulse anyway?  If you have Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), checking your pulse is a quick and easy way to tell if you’re in or out of rhythm.  While many people feel terrible when they’re in AFib—palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and decreased stamina, to name a few—some folks have no idea when they go into AFib.  This can be especially dangerous for people with undiagnosed AFib, since the heart rhythm disorder is one of the top causes of stroke.  If you don’t know you’re in AFib, you can’t take steps to protect yourself from its potentially debilitating effects.

And since AFib affects more than 3 million Americans, mostly over the age of 60, I would argue that everyone age 60 or older should take their pulse on a regular basis to (at the very least) see if it’s fast or slow, regular or irregular.

So here’s how to do it:

  1.  Turn your left hand so that your palm is face-up.
  2. With the index and middle fingers of your right hand, draw a line from the base of your thumb to just below the crease in your wrist.  Your fingers should nestle just to the left of the large tendon that pops up when you bend your wrist toward you.
  3. Don’t press too hard, that will make the pulse go away.  Use gentle pressure.
  4. Wait.  It can take several seconds—and several micro-adjustments in the placement of your two fingers on your wrist—to find your pulse.  Just keep moving your fingers down or up your wrist in small increments (and pausing for a few seconds) until you find it.
  5. Notice whether your pulse is regular (keeps time like a metronome) or irregular (more random, fast-slow, fast-slow).  An irregular pulse is a tell-tale sign of AFib or other heart rhythm disturbances.
  6. To take your pulse rate:
    1. Find a watch with a second hand and place it on your right wrist or on the table next to your left hand.
    2. After finding your pulse, count the number of beats for 20 seconds.
    3. Multiply by 3 to get your heart rate, or beats per minute (or just count for 60 seconds for a math-free option).
    4. Normal, resting heart rate is about 60-100 beats per minute.

Questions about what you find?  Speak to a Nurse Navigator by calling (877) 887-7737, or consult your physician.

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