As a person's heart beats, it pumps blood through their vascular system. For blood to flow from the heart to the tissues, the arteries must be pressurized. High blood pressure can cause organ and tissue damage, while overly-low blood pressure can mean that tissues aren't getting enough oxygen. As such, individuals and their health care practitioners may wish to monitor blood pressure as an indicator of health. Physicians normally use a blood pressure cuff or machine for this purpose, but patients can approximate their own blood pressures without a cuff.
Feel for a pulse at one of the carotid arteries. These arteries run through the neck, on either side of the voice box, or larynx, notes Dr. Gary Thibodeau in his book, "Anatomy and Physiology." Without pressing hard enough to slow the flow of blood--which can lead to dizziness--feel for a pulse. The rate of the pulse is unimportant. According to a 1985 article by Dr. P.E. Collicott entitled "Advanced Trauma Life Support for Physicians," a palpable carotid pulse means the individual in question has a systolic, or pumping, pressure of 60-70 mmHg.
Feel for a pulse at one of the femoral arteries. These arteries are the major vessels that deliver blood to the tissues of the leg, and they run from the abdomen through each thigh. The femoral pulse is easiest to palpate in the crease between the thigh and the abdomen, a few inches to either side of the midline. Since the femoral artery is further from the heart than the carotid artery, blood pressure is lower in the femoral artery. As such, notes Dr. Collicott, palpable femoral arteries mean the patient has at least a systolic pressure of 70-80 mmHg.
Feel for a pulse at one of the radial arteries. These run along the underside of the arm near the two bones of the forearm. It's easiest to find the radial pulse by placing the fingers on the underside of the forearm before the arm meets the wrist, closer to the thumb side of the arm. According to Dr. Collicott, palpable radial pulses indicate that the patient has a systolic pressure of more than 80 mmHg. Because the radial artery is smaller than the femoral artery and is higher on the body, blood pressure must be higher than 80 mmHg for a pulse to reach the radial artery.
Feel for pulses gently--overly compressing arteries can cause damage to tissues and may make it impossible to feel a pulse.
A 2000 article in the "British Medical Journal" notes that palpation-based blood pressure assessments may overestimate blood pressure slightly.
Is This an Emergency?
- “Anatomy and Physiology”; Gary Thibodeau, Ph.D.; 2007
- "Advanced Trauma Life Support for Physicians"; P. E. Collicott; 1985
- "British Medical Journal"; Accuracy of the advanced trauma life support guidelines for predicting systolic blood pressure using carotid, femoral, and radial pulses: observational study; Charles Deakin and Lorraine Low; April 2000