Checking your pulse

You can tell if you have a regular or irregular heart rate by checking your pulse.

Your pulse may increase during the day when doing your normal activities and when you’re exercising. Your pulse is usually checked when you’re resting, but measuring it after exercise can also help show how fit you are.

Our Senior Cardiac Nurse, Emily Reeve, shows you how to check your pulse:

Finding your pulse

The easiest places to find your pulse are:

Your wrist

  1. Put one of your hands out so you’re looking at your palm.
  2. Use the first finger (your index finger) and middle finger of your other hand and place the pads of these fingers on the inside of your wrist, at the base of your thumb.
  3. Press lightly and feel the pulse. If you can’t feel anything press slightly harder or move your fingers around until you feel your pulse.

Your neck

  1. Press your index and middle finger gently against the side of your neck, next to your windpipe.
  2. Press lightly to feel your pulse. You may need to move your fingers around if you can’t find your pulse

How to check your pulse

Illustration of someone checking their pulseOnce you’ve found your pulse, continue to feel it for about 20-30 seconds. Feel your pulse and check if it’s regular or irregular. You can work out your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm) by:

  • counting the number of beats in your pulse after 60 seconds, or
  • counting the beats for 30 seconds and multiplying by two.

If your pulse feels irregular, you should check for a full 60 seconds.

What should you check?

Your heart rate:

  • Most adults have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 bpm
  • Your heart rate may be lower if you do lots of exercise and are very fit. Some athletes have heart rates ranging from 40 to 60 bpm.

Your heart rhythm:

  • Occasional irregularities such as missed beats are very common and usually nothing to worry about, but it is still best to check this with your doctor.
  • An irregular pulse could also be a sign of an arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm), such as Atrial Fibrillation (AF). This is more likely if you are 65 or older.

What does a regular heart rhythm sound like?

Listen to the example heart rhythms below to help you spot an irregular heart beat: