Heart Health - February 2023

Simple Ways to Check Your Heart Health

Your doctor will do some simple tests to get clues about how well your ticker is doing. They'll listen to your heart, take your heart rate, and check your blood pressure. You may get a blood test, too.

Your Heart Rate

Your doctor will feel your pulse to check your heart rate and rhythm. Each pulse matches up with a heartbeat that pumps blood through your arteries. Finding out your pulse helps your doctor judge the strength of your blood flow and blood pressure in different areas of your body.

You can tell how fast your heart beats and whether it's regular by feeling your pulse. Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in 1 minute. To measure your pulse on your own:

  • Get a watch with a second hand.
  • Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers.
  • Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds.
  • Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart rate for 1 minute.

Besides checking your pulse, your doctor can hear the opening and closing of your heart valves by using a stethoscope.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. There are two ways it's measured:

  • Systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart squeezes.
  • Diastolic blood pressure. It's the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is relaxed, between heartbeats.

Normal blood pressure for an adult, when you're at rest, is less than 120 over less than 80. The 120 is the systolic pressure. The diastolic pressure is 79. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 or higher. Years of high blood pressure can stiffen and narrow your artery walls, which blocks the blood flow to your heart. It can lead to heart disease or heart attack.

Your blood pressure may go up or down depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading doesn't mean you have high blood pressure. You need to measure it at different times while you're resting to find out your typical numbers.