Almost all blood pressure monitors give you three numbers at the end of their measurement. The systolic and diastolic blood pressure and your pulse. We always focus on the blood pressure numbers, but is there anything useful to learn from your pulse when it comes to measuring your blood pressure?
What is your pulse rate?
Your pulse rate is simply the number of beats per minute that your heart is pumping blood around your body. There are two aspects to the pulse that are worth considering – its rate (how fast your heart is beating) and its regularity (is it ticking like a clock or jumping around randomly?). I’ll consider the first one here and I’ll write a second blog about pulse regularity.
How high is your pulse rate, i.e. how fast is your heart pumping?
The faster your pulse, the more work your heart is doing and usually your blood pressure will also increase. Generally, this is not a bad thing! When we are active, we need to pump the blood around our bodies more quickly to get oxygen where it is needed. Without this we’d have to spend all day in bed.
However, when we are measuring our blood pressure we want to be relaxed. This is so that we know we are comparing readings from people in the same situation and can make the right decisions about who to treat and how much. Doctors could have chosen to measure everybody’s blood pressure after running up a flight of stairs but that would be much more complicated!
Are you relaxed?
So, the pulse rate can give us a clue as to whether we really are relaxed when we take a blood pressure reading. The advice is to relax for 5 minutes before taking a blood pressure reading, but this can be difficult. If your pulse is high then you may need to work on how you relax during those 5 minutes. Having caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, coke) will also increase your pulse rate for a short while after drinking them. Ensuring you are relaxed will help you avoid being over-treated for your blood pressure.
Now, the obvious question – what is a high pulse rate? A resting pulse rate is considered normal up to 100 beats per minute. However, most of us will have a lower resting rate, often between 60 and 80. The best way to judge if your pulse is higher than your resting, relaxed rate is to learn what is normal for you over time. Keep an eye on it when you are taking blood pressure readings and if you notice it is significantly higher than usual you may find you aren’t as relaxed as you thought!
For completion, I should mention that if your relaxed pulse rate is consistently over 100 you should see your doctor for a check up.