Why do doctors examine the pulse?

          When a person falls sick, the doctor often examines his pulse by placing his fingers on the wrist of the patient. What does this pulse indicate?

          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. 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. 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 wrist over the radical artery. It can also be felt at the temples where we have temporal artery or at other places where an artery is near the surface. This sensation cannot be felt in the veins because the blood reaches them from the arteries by passing through the narrow capillaries.

          The nurse or a doctor asks the patient to put the arm in a relaxed position with the thumb turned upwards. Then the doctor feels the pulse. The beats are counted for one minute. Since the pulsations mean the heart contraction, the pulse tells us about the heart rate. 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 may indicate 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. The pulse rate in children is much higher than the healthy adults. The normal rate for a seven-year old child is 90 beats per minute. A new born baby can have a pulse rate of 140. The old people can be in the 50-65 range of pulse rate.