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Heart rate: What it says about your health

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Heart rate: What it says about your health

The sound of your heartbeat is a key indicator of life, but your pulse can tell you much more about your health than many people may realize.
That’s why someone checks your pulse every time you go to the doctor’s office, says Paige Weaver, a physician assistant who provides care at the Murrells Inlet and Garden City locations of Tidelands Health Family Medicine.
“Pulse can give us a lot of insight into a patient’s health,” Weaver says.

Typical range

The resting heartbeat for most adults should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute, according to the American Heart Association.
High pulse rates can signal an abnormal heart rhythm or other condition, Weaver said. Pulse rates that are too slow can make a patient feel fatigued, short of breath or like they might pass out.

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“It’s a good idea to be cognizant of what your typical resting heart rate is at baseline so if you do have elevations, you know it’s abnormal and you can bring it to the attention of your provider,” Weaver says.
By routinely measuring your pulse, you can understand what’s normal for you, which can help you identify any unusual changes that may signal a concern.

How to measure your pulse

You can measure your own heart rate using an electronic device, such as a wearable activity tracker, pulse oximeter or blood pressure monitor, or manually by feeling for a pulse with two fingers on your wrist.
Outside factors such as air temperature or stressors during the day can influence your heart rate. That’s why medical professionals often recommend patients check their pulse when they first wake up in the morning to get the most accurate reading.
Many other factors can influence heart rate, including illness, stress, emotions and certain types of medicine. Caffeine and dehydration can have an influence as well.
“Most people don’t need to be too concerned if they bump up to 100 every once in a while, especially after exercise,” Weaver says.

What it means

In general, the lower your resting heart rate, the better because it suggests your heart is stronger and doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain a steady pulse. Endurance athletes, for example, may have heart rates lower than 60 beats per minute because their rigorous exercise regimens have strengthened their hearts to be more efficient at pumping blood. High resting heart rates have been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

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If you experience a consistently low maximum heart rate or high resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute or any other red flags, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, pressure or tightness, lightheadedness or dizziness, palpitations that continue for more than a few minutes, it’s important to seek medical care. In case of emergency, always call 911.
Your provider can help determine what’s causing your symptoms and whether there is cause for concern. Likewise, if you are interested in starting an exercise regimen or taking other steps to help lower your resting heart rate, it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified care provider regarding your plans.

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