Your heart rate, or pulse, determines the strength of your heart. It is the number of times your heart beats per minute and it measures how hard your heart is working. A fluctuating heart rate is considered abnormal and could indicate an underlying issue. Monitoring your heart rate is a smart habit to get into as it can help you recognize when or if there is a problem.
A healthy heart rate indicates more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness, according to MayoClinic.com. Your pulse is the expansion and contraction of an artery as blood is forced through it. A normal, healthy heart rate is typically between 60 and 90 beats per minute, but this can depend on your sex and ethnicity. According to a 1992 review of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, women had a slightly higher resting pulse than men. A slightly higher pulse was found in whites as compared to blacks in women and men ages 25 to 44. Smokers had higher heart beats per minute than nonsmokers. Fall and winter caused higher pulse rates, as did afternoon and evening.
An irregularity in heart rate is termed arrhythmia. Problems with your heart rate can occur when the electrical impulses in your heart function improperly, which can cause a fluctuating heart rate, according to MayoClinic.com. Arrhythmias are often harmless, but some arrhythmias can be life threatening so it is best to visit your doctor at the first sign of an irregular heartbeat. A fluctuating heart rate can cause a fluttering in your chest, a racing or slow heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting. Causes of a fluctuating heart rate include heart scar tissue, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, stress or medications.
Treatment can depend on what is causing your fluctuating heart rate. Often there is no treatment unless your heartbeat patterns cause other symptoms or become more serious. A pacemaker is used when the heartbeat is too slow or occasionally stops. The pacemaker sends out electrical impulses to stimulate the heart to beat. If your heart rate is too fast, maneuvers such as holding your breath or dunking your face in ice water, medications or catheters can help to treat the arrhythmia, according to MayoClinic.com. Implantable devices or surgery may be required in some cases.
You can feel your heart rate, or pulse, on your wrist, neck, groin and top of the foot. This is because the artery is close to the skin. Place your index and middle fingers one inch below the base of your palm on your wrist. Press your fingers between the middle tendons and the outside bone. You should feel a throbbing; this is your heart rate. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by six to get your heart rate. To adequately obtain your normal, resting heart rate, take your pulse after 10 minutes of inactivity. If you encounter a fluctuating beat, take your pulse for a full minute.