Heart rate vs Pulse rate

Last Updated: April 25, 2024

Heart rate vs Pulse rate

Heart rate and pulse rate are vital indicators of health, often used interchangeably but represent slightly different aspects of cardiovascular function. Heart rate refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute, reflecting the heart’s activity and overall health. Conversely, pulse rate measures the frequency of pulses felt over arteries, indicating the rate at which the heart is pumping blood. Both metrics provide essential insights into cardiac efficiency and physical health, guiding medical assessments and fitness monitoring.

What is Heart Rate?

Heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, indicating how hard your heart is working to circulate blood throughout your body. It can vary based on many factors, including age, fitness level, air temperature, body position, emotions, and physical activity. Monitoring heart rate is crucial for assessing cardiovascular health, determining fitness levels, and diagnosing potential heart-related conditions. Regular checks can help track changes over time, offering valuable data for maintaining or improving heart health.

How to Check Heart Rate

1. Using an Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

  • Description: An ECG is a medical device that records the electrical signals in your heart. It is the most accurate way to measure heart rate and assess heart health.
  • Procedure:
    • Visit a healthcare facility where the staff will attach electrodes to your chest and possibly limbs.
    • Relax while the machine records your heart’s electrical activity for a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Use: This method is typically used in medical settings but can also be part of home health monitoring if prescribed.

2. Smartwatch and Wearable Fitness Trackers

  • Description: Many smartwatches and fitness trackers can measure heart rate using optical sensors. These devices use light to detect the rate at which blood is pumped by your heart.
  • Procedure:
    • Wear the device according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically around your wrist.
    • Ensure the device is in direct contact with your skin.
    • Access the heart rate function on the device to get a reading.
  • Use: This is an excellent option for continuous monitoring and is especially useful during exercise or throughout the day.

3. Smartphone Apps

  • Description: Certain smartphone apps can measure heart rate using the phone’s built-in camera or an attached sensor.
  • Procedure:
    • Download a heart rate measurement app from your smartphone’s app store.
    • If using the camera method, place your finger over the camera lens and hold it steady.
    • The app will measure color changes in your finger that are linked to blood flow and calculate your heart rate.
  • Use: This method is convenient for occasional checks but may not be as accurate as medical devices.

4. Chest Strap Monitors

  • Description: Chest strap heart rate monitors are used frequently by athletes for training. They measure electrical impulses from the heart, similar to an ECG.
  • Procedure:
    • Secure the chest strap around your chest, just below the chest muscles.
    • Make sure the sensor pad is moist to ensure good contact with the skin.
    • Sync the strap with a compatible device to read your heart rate.
  • Use: Ideal for accurate, real-time heart rate monitoring during intense workouts or sports.

What is Pulse Rate?

Pulse rate is the number of times your arteries expand and contract in response to the heart pumping blood through them, measurable at any point on the body where an artery is close to the skin and can be felt. These points include the wrists, neck, and ankles. The pulse rate provides a direct insight into the rhythm and strength of your heart’s beats, serving as an important health indicator that reflects your heart rate and circulatory system’s condition.

How to Check Pulse Rate

Step 1: Locate the Pulse

The easiest places to find your pulse are on your wrist or neck.

  • Wrist: Place your index and middle fingers on the inside of your wrist, below the base of your thumb.
  • Neck: Place your index and middle fingers on your neck, to the side of your windpipe.

Step 2: Feel the Pulse

Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the blood pulsing beneath your skin. If you can’t find it, move your fingers around slightly until you do.

Step 3: Count the Beats

Once you’ve located your pulse, count the beats for 30 seconds and then double the number to get your pulse rate in beats per minute (bpm). For a more accurate reading, count for a full minute.

Step 4: Record the Results

Keep a record of your pulse rate readings to monitor any changes over time, especially if you are tracking your heart health or any medical conditions.

Differences Between Heart Rate and Pulse Rate

Differences Between Heart Rate and Pulse Rate
AspectHeart RatePulse Rate
DefinitionThe number of times the heart beats per minute.The number of times the arterial pulse is felt per minute.
MeasurementTypically measured using an electrocardiogram (ECG) that records electrical activity of the heart.Often measured manually by palpating arteries such as the wrist or neck.
What It IndicatesReflects the frequency of heart contractions.Indicates the frequency of pulses in arteries, reflecting heart beats.
Tools UsedECG machines, heart rate monitors.Fingers used for palpation, pulse oximeters.
UnitsBeats per minute (bpm).Beats per minute (bpm).
Clinical UseUsed to diagnose heart conditions, monitor cardiac health, and assess effects of drugs.Used for quick assessments of heart rhythm and circulatory health.
VariationsMay vary with conditions such as arrhythmias where there could be a heart beat without effective blood flow.Generally matches the heart rate, but may differ if not all heartbeats result in a palpable pulse.
AccuracyConsidered more accurate in reflecting heart’s function as it measures electrical activity directly.May be less accurate if pulses are weak or irregular.
InterpretationRequires professional interpretation when using an ECG.Can be easily measured by laypersons and health professionals alike.
Impact of Physical ActivityIncreases with exercise, stress, and anxiety.Increases similarly under the same conditions but can be affected by peripheral factors such as vessel stiffness.
Relation to Cardiac OutputDirectly related to cardiac output, which is the volume of blood the heart pumps per minute.Indirectly related, as it reflects the pulses felt, not the actual volume of blood pumped.
Significance in Medical TestingMore detailed evaluations of heart rate are essential in tests like stress tests and heart function studies.Typically not used for in-depth cardiac diagnostic testing but is valuable in basic physical examinations.
Influencing FactorsHeart rate can be influenced by factors like temperature, body position, and emotional state.Similar factors can influence pulse rate, along with arterial health and blood pressure.
Monitoring ConsistencyGenerally consistent when monitored under controlled conditions.Can show variability due to measurement technique or peripheral circulation issues.

Key Similarities Between Heart Rate and Pulse Rate

Heart rate and pulse rate are often used interchangeably in everyday language, but they originate from closely related physiological processes. Here are the key similarities between the two:

1. Measurement of Cardiac Activity

Both heart rate and pulse rate measure the activity of the heart. Heart rate refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute, while pulse rate is the frequency at which one feels the heartbeats at various points on the body, such as the wrist or neck.

2. Indicators of Heart Function

Both rates serve as crucial indicators of heart function and overall cardiovascular health. They help in assessing how fast the heart is beating, which can be critical for diagnosing and monitoring various health conditions.

3. Response to Physical Activity

Heart rate and pulse rate increase in response to physical activity. This rise helps to meet the higher oxygen and nutrient demands of the body during exercise or any physical exertion.

4. Influenced by Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions, regulates both the heart rate and pulse rate. Factors like stress, excitement, or relaxation can cause both rates to increase or decrease.

5. Used for Medical Assessments

Both measurements are used routinely in medical assessments. They are critical in emergency settings, physical exams, and are key metrics in fitness tests to evaluate an individual’s health status and physical fitness level.


Is There a Difference Between Heart Rate and Pulse?

Yes, heart rate measures heartbeats per minute, while pulse rate is those beats felt at various body points.

What Is the Normal Pulse Rate and Normal Heart Rate?

Both normal pulse and heart rates typically range from 60 to 100 beats per minute for adults.

What Is a Good Pulse Rate by Age?

For adults: 60-100 bpm, children: 70-100 bpm, infants: 100-160 bpm; athletes may have lower rates.

What Is an Unhealthy Pulse Rate?

An unhealthy pulse rate is below 60 or over 100 bpm at rest, indicating potential cardiac issues.

What Are 4 Signs Your Heart Is Slowly Failing You?

Signs include persistent coughing, swelling in extremities, fatigue, and shortness of breath during activities.

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