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Heart Rate Guide: A Beat on a Key Vital Sign

Author: Danielle Lewan

Published: September 8, 2022

Heart Rate Guide: A Beat on a Key Vital Sign

Heart rate is an important vital sign that clinicians take into account when determining the general physical health of a patient. Vital signs are important indicators of health in the human body, as they can often be used to determine underlying diseases and track progress toward recovery.

Heart rate describes the number of times that your heart beats per minute. Your body regulates your heart rate to match what is happening around you (ie. temperature, stress levels), or to adjust to what your body is doing (ie. exercise or sleep). For example, when someone is physically active, their heart rate will likely increase and when resting, one’s heart rate typically drops. When the heart is beating too fast, too slow, or irregularly, it can be a signal of cardiovascular, or other health problems.

Normal Resting Heart Range:

It is important to identify whether your heart rate sits within the normal range. The normal range for heart rate is typically determined by age. If you have an injury or a disease that weakens the heart, your organs may not receive enough blood which can also directly affect your heart rate and ability to do certain activities.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has published a list of normal resting heart rates. Below is a table of the standard range of target heart rates by age.

A table of the standard range of target heart rates by age. The age column ranges from up to one month to over 10 years. The normal heart rate column ranges from 70 to 190 bpm to 60 to 100 bpm, indicating that adults have lower heart rates.

Note that normal heart rate ranges get progressively lower as a person develops and moves through childhood toward adolescence. This is because it takes more force to push blood through smaller blood vessels than through larger ones; so as the body grows, the heart does not need to work as hard to push the blood through the vessels. Once someone is over 10 years old, a normal stable heart rate range is between 60 – 100 beats per minute.

Our resting heart rate (RHR) is an important indicator of heart health. Clinicians monitoring this parameter might detect changes in a patient’s cardiovascular health that need to be addressed. Your RHR is the number of times your heart beats per minute while you’re at rest. A normal resting heart rate falls between 60 to 100 beats per minute. According to the American Heart Association, it’s best to measure your RHR first thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed. Some home monitors are capable of tracking sleeping heart rates as an alternative to resting heart rates for those to struggle with traditional monitoring techniques.

Aside from exercise and physical activities, heart rate may also be affected by body size, body position, temperature, and use of medications.

Heart Rate Outside of the Expected Normal Range:

When a resting heart rate falls outside of the normal range, either too high or too low, it may be a sign of a health problem. Two examples of heart rates that fall outside of the normal range are:

  • Tachycardia: This describes when your resting heart rate is over 100 bpm, an unusually high rate.
  • Bradycardia: This describes when your resting heart rate is under 60 bpm, an unusually low rate.

What happens when you have Tachycardia or Bradycardia?

The hearts of adults at rest usually beat between 60 and 100 times a minute. Athletes typically have a lower normal heart rate range given that their hearts are generally stronger and more efficient than the average person’s. If you have bradycardia, your heart beats fewer than 60 times a minute. Bradycardia can be a serious problem if the heart is unable to pump enough blood to all the organs and tissues that need it. This may lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, confusion, fainting, and shortness of breath.

Inversely, tachycardia is the medical term for a heart rate over 100 beats a minute. Many types of irregular heart rhythms (also referred to as arrhythmias) can cause tachycardia. Heart rate typically rises during exercise or as a response to stress, but a constant high heart rate may be due to a more serious health issue. If tachycardia is left untreated it can lead to health problems, including heart failure, stroke, or sudden cardiac death. When the heart beats too fast, it may also not adequately pump enough blood to the rest of the body, due to decreased ventricular filling time and decreased ventricular filling (preload) at high rates of contraction. As a result, the organs and tissues may not get enough oxygen, similar to the body’s response to bradycardia. Signs and symptoms of tachycardia may include the sensation of a racing and pounding heartbeat, chest pain, fainting, rapid pulse rate, and shortness of breath. The most common form of tachycardia is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). AFib is when irregular electrical signals in the upper chambers of the heart cause a fast heartbeat.

If you have questions or concerns about your heart rate, please contact your healthcare provider for further information and examination.

Measuring Heart Rate:

Pulse rate is one way of measuring heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute. As blood is pushed through the arteries by the heart, the arteries expand and contract with the flow of the blood. This contraction and expansion can often be felt through the surface of the skin and the palpable feeling, your pulse, can be tracked.

Certain points on the body are easier than others for you or a healthcare professional to feel your pulse in order to measure your heart rate. The easiest places to measure the heart’s pulse are where arteries are closest to one’s skin. A common method to measure one’s heart rate via pulse is to use an index and middle ring finger together and press hard enough to feel the beats.

The following points are the most commonly used body parts to measure heart rate:

  • Neck (carotid artery): Start at your earlobe and trace your finger along your skin straight down. Just underneath your jawbone, you should be able to feel your pulse.
  • Wrist (radial artery): Holding your hand with your palm upward, this point is where the fleshy muscle of your thumb merges into your wrist.
  • Inside your elbow (brachial artery): Start at the center hollow area of the inside of your elbow with the fingers of your opposite hand. Slowly pull those fingers along your skin toward your body. You should be able to feel your pulse just slightly off-center of the inside of your elbow.

Along with the ways listed above to measure pulse rate, optical sensors, such as those found in many wearable devices measure pulse rate as well.

The Difference Between Heart Rate and Pulse:

Many people confuse heart rate and pulse. Although there is a connection between heart rate and pulse, they are not the same. Heart rate is defined as the rate of contractions (heart beats) of the heart, while pulse is the temporary increase in arterial pressure that can be felt throughout the body. For those with a normal, healthy heart, pulse rate can be used to measure heat rate as they are often synchronized.

Each time your heart beats, it squeezes and propels blood through the network of arteries in your body. The pulse is the pressure in your arteries going up briefly as your heart pushes out more blood to keep circulation going. Between beats, your heart relaxes, which brings the pressure back down again.

Measuring Heart Rate with The Heart Seat

One of the important measures of the Heart Seat is heart rate. The Heart Seat uses a single-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart and calculate the heart rate. Unlike other wearable devices on the market for measuring heart rate, the Heart Seat collects data in the background without needing the user to remember to take the measurement or wear the device.

The EKG is one of the Heart Seat’s three sensors. The Heart Seat also has a photoplethysmogram (PPG) measuring blood oxygenation and local blood volume, and a ballistocardiogram (BCG), which measures the mechanical forces associated with the cardiac cycle and ventricular ejection.

At Casana, we believe the smart toilet seat is the key to unlocking a new wave of effortless home health monitoring. Casana’s first product, The Heart Seat’s goal is to solve the adherence challenge of monitoring vital signs at home. The Heart Seat is currently under development.

Disclaimer: All of the material provided above is for informational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Casana does not endorse any of the products or services mentioned in this post.