Keeping track of your blood pressure and pulse lets you know how hard your heart is working and what your risk for heart disease is. A normal pulse rate at rest is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower pulse rate means that your heart muscle is not having to beat too hard to do its job. However, if your pulse goes too low, it can be dangerous.
Your pulse rate is also called your heart rate. It is the number of times your heart beats per minute as it delivers blood, oxygen and nutrients to your bloodstream. Your pulse varies throughout the day. Your resting pulse is your rate when you first wake in the morning after a good night's sleep. During the day your pulse may get faster or slower due to activity, stress and your diet. In general, a lower pulse rate means that your heart muscle is strong and more efficient at its job.
How to Find Your Pulse
You can take your pulse in your wrist or neck. Using your first two fingers, find the pulse in the inside of your wrist or on the side of your neck. Count the beats for one minute, or for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. (See Reference 1 for instructions and illustrations.) Remember that a resting pulse rate between 60 and 100 is considered normal.
Bradycardia is the medical term used for a low heart rate. Low pulse rates can be caused by metabolic diseases and damage to the heart structure. An imbalance in electrolytes and some medications can also cause your pulse to drop. According to the American Heart Association, bradycardia is often diagnosed when the pulse drops below 60 beats per minute. However, in highly conditioned athletes, a resting pulse rate of 60 or slightly less is not alarming.
Symptoms and Complications
If your pulse rate drops too low, you may feel lightheaded, dizzy, faint or very fatigued. You may even be at risk for a heart attack. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor. Bradycardia left untreated can lead to chest pain, high blood pressure and heart failure. Your doctor can use an electrocardiogram and other heart monitor tests to see if you are at risk. Only your doctor can determine whether your low pulse rate is at a dangerous level for you and prescribe the appropriate treatment.