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Pulse - weak or absent

Definition

A weak pulse means you have difficulty feeling a person's pulse (heartbeat). An absent pulse means you cannot detect a pulse at all.

See also: CPR

Alternative Names

Weak pulse; Absent pulse

Considerations

An absent or weak pulse may affect all or one part of the body.

If a pulse cannot be detected by a non-medical professional, it doesn't always mean there is a problem. Sometimes, it can be hard for a non-medical person to detect a pulse in certain areas.

Common Causes

  • Cardiac arrest (lack of an effective heartbeat)
  • Improper technique used to feel for the pulse
  • Normally weak pulse that is difficult to measure without proper instruments
  • Shock

Home Care

Follow the treatment your health care provider prescribes. CPR may be necessary.

Call your health care provider if

Call your health care provider if there is any sudden, severe, or long-lasting decrease in the pulse quality or rate, particularly when there are also other symptoms.

Shock is a life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical help if you think someone has gone into shock. Start CPR, if needed.

A loss of consciousness or disorientation suggests that there is not enough blood getting to the brain. Seek medical help immediately.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your medical provider will take a medical history, do a physical exam, and ask questions such as:

  • Is the pulse weak?
  • Is it absent?
  • Is the pulse weak or absent in only one location?
  • Is a major pulse weak or absent (for example, when checking the carotid pulse in the neck)?
  • What other symptoms are present?

Physical examination may include monitoring the vital signs (pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure). Emergency measures will be taken as necessary. Continued monitoring may be necessary.

Diagnostic tests may include:

References

Fang JC, O'Gara PT. The history and physical examination: an evidence-based approach. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 11.

Schriger DL. Approach to the patient with abnormal vital signs. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 7.


Review Date: 2/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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