Pulse Rate vs Blood Pressure! Know the Difference!

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Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBSGeneral Physician, 6+ Years
Published On : 13-May-2022Read Time : 7 minutes
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Blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate are the key terms used when talking about heart health. It is easy to feel confused and overwhelmed when these terminologies are thrown about. Are they the same? Are they different but interrelated? Do not worry, let’s tackle these terms one at a time and learn about the differences between them. 

Contents:
  • What are Pulse Rate and Heart Rate?
  • What is Blood Pressure?
  • How are Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure Measured?
  • What is the Relation Between Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?
  • What is the Difference Between Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?
  • What are the Factors That Affect Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate?
  • What Causes Abnormal Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?
  • How to Manage Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?
  • When to See a Doctor?
  • Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • FAQs

What is Pulse Rate and Heart Rate?

Pulse rate and heart rate determine the same number. Pulse rate or heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute or the speed at which the heart beats.

Normal pulse rate can vary from minute to minute and person to person, depending on age and general health. However, generally, a normal resting pulse rate should be between 60 to 100 beats per minute.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force exerted by the flowing blood on the walls of your arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to other parts of the body. With each heartbeat, your heart pumps blood into your arteries. 

An ideal blood pressure level is less than or equal to 120/80 mm Hg, where 120 mm Hg is the systolic blood pressure and 80 mm Hg is the diastolic blood pressure.

How are Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure Measured?

Pulse rate and blood pressure can be self-measured. However, it is advised to measure them when your heart is working in a normal state. This means that the body should be in a resting position and these numbers should not be measured after a stressful event or workout.

Measuring Pulse Rate

It is easy to measure the pulse rate using an activity tracker such as a fitness watch or other digital devices available in the market. If you want to measure it manually, the following steps need to be followed:

  • Place and press the first two fingers of your hand on the inside of your wrist to find your pulse.
  • Set a timer to a minute to help you measure the pulse rate in a minute.
  • Count the number of pulse beats within the time period of one minute.

It can also be measured by placing the finger on the side of your neck, the inside of your elbow or the top of your foot. 

The resting pulse rate or heart rate for different ages can be understood by the following numbers. Target heart rate during moderate intensity activity is about 50-70% of maximum heart rate, and during strenuous physical activity is about 70-85% of maximum heart rate.

AgeTarget Heart Rate Zone, 50-85%Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%
20 years100-170 beats per minute (bpm)200 bpm
30 years95-162 bpm190 bpm
35 years93-157 bpm185 bpm
40 years90-153 bpm180 bpm
45 years88-149 bpm175 bpm
50 years85-145 bpm170 bpm
55 years83-140 bpm165 bpm
60 years80-136 bpm160 bpm
65 years78-132 bpm155 bpm
70 years75-128 bpm150 bpm

Source: American Heart Association

Measuring Blood Pressure

Checking your blood pressure is a little more elaborate process as compared to checking your pulse or heart rate, as it requires a blood pressure cuff. You can get it checked by your doctor at any nearby clinics or hospitals. 

However, digital blood pressure monitors are now available in superstores and pharmacies that can help you self-check your blood pressure.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Your blood pressure reading consists of 2 numbers:

  • The systolic blood pressure or the top number indicates the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • The diastolic blood pressure or the bottom number indicates the pressure in your blood vessels between the beats.

You should keep in mind the readings in this table to know if your BP is high, low, or normal.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic (mm Hg)and/orDiastolic (mm Hg)
LowLess than 90and/or Less than 60
NormalLess than 120andLess than 80
Elevated120 to 129andLess than 80

High Blood Pressure

(Hypertension Stage 1)

130 to 139or80 to 89

High Blood Pressure

(Hypertension Stage 2)

140 or higheror90 or higher
Hypertensive CrisisHigher than 180and/orHigher than 120

Source: American Heart Association and the National Health Service

What is the Relation Between Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?

Pulse rate and blood pressure are often mistaken to be interrelated. They frequently rise together, but it does not mean that this will happen in all conditions. For example, when you are performing a heavy physical activity, both your pulse rate and blood pressure will increase. Meanwhile, if you are sick, dehydrated or bleeding, your pulse rate will be high but your blood pressure will decrease.

Further, during exercise, as your heart beats faster, your healthy blood vessels will expand in size to allow increased blood flow, and this will help your blood pressure levels remain stable. 

Thus, measuring your pulse or heart rate alone is not an indicator of high or low blood pressure. Your pulse rate or heart rate can increase with or without any change in your blood pressure.

What is the Difference Between Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?

Pulse rate and blood pressure are two different numbers that determine cardiovascular health.

Blood pressure refers to the pressure exerted by your blood on the walls of your blood vessels, whereas the pulse rate or heart rate determines the number of times your heart beats in a minute.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common clinical condition where your blood pressure is consistently too high. 

Low blood pressure or hypotension is defined as the condition where your blood flows with very less pressure or force through your blood vessels.

A high (resting) pulse rate, medically known as tachycardia, is when your heart beats more than 100 times in a minute. It can vary among individuals based on several factors such as age and fitness levels.

A low resting pulse rate, medically referred to as bradycardia, is a condition where your beats beats less than 60 beats a minute. If the pulse rate is very slow and the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body, it can become a serious condition.

This table provides a simple comparison between pulse/heart rate and blood pressure. 

Parameters of comparisonPulse/Heart RateBlood Pressure
MeaningThe number of times your heart beats in one minutePressure exerted by your blood on the walls of your blood vessels.
Unit of measurementBeats per minute (bpm)Millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
Normal range 60-100 bpm120/80 mm Hg
Numbers for measurementConsists of a single numberConsists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic

What are the Factors That Affect Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate?

Factors That Affect Pulse Rate

Various factors can affect the pulse rate, including:

  • Air temperature: 

When the temperature and humidity in the air rises, your heart has to pump more blood, which results in an increased pulse rate.

  • Obesity: 

If you are obese, you might see an increased resting pulse rate. It should not be above 100 bpm.

  • Body position: 

A sudden change in your body position might increase or decrease your pulse rate. 

  • Emotions: 

The state of your mind can affect your pulse rate. If you are stressed, anxious, or extremely happy or sad, you will observe an increase in your pulse rate.

  • Beta blockers: 

Drugs such as beta blockers can lower the pulse or heart rate to a value below 60 bpm, which does not necessarily indicate a medical problem.

 

Factors That Affect Blood Pressure

Blood pressure may increase or decrease due to several factors which can include:

  • Environmental factors such as climate, temperature, and time of the day
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Lifestyle habits such as low physical movement, poor diet, and tobacco and alcohol consumption
  • Psychological stress and anxiety
  • Medications taken by you for underlying diseases

What Causes Abnormal Pulse Rate and Blood Pressure?

Causes of Abnormal Pulse Rate

If your pulse rate or heart rate is resulting in an abnormal reading (above 100 bpm or below 60 bpm), it could be because of the following causes:

  • Atrial fibrillation: 

It is a common type of arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) that causes a high and irregular resting heart rate.

  • Heart block: 

It is a condition in which the heart beats slower than normal.

  • Hypothyroidism: 

Insufficient thyroid hormone production can lead to a slower heart rate.

  • Medications: 

Certain medicines for colds and allergies can cause an abnormal heart rate..

Causes of Abnormal Blood Pressure

  • Causes of high blood pressure: 

Primary hypertension can be caused by age, genetics, overweight, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or chronic conditions such as diabetes or kidney disorders. Secondary hypertension is mostly caused by an underlying health condition or certain medications.

  • Causes of low blood pressure: 

Low blood pressure (below 90/60 mm Hg) can happen due to medical conditions such as heart diseases, endocrine disorders, pregnancy, severe infection or septicemia, dehydration, blood loss, and malnutrition. Certain medications such as blood pressure medications and antidepressants can also cause low blood pressure.

When To See A Doctor?

See a doctor if:

  • Your pulse or heart rate is lower than normal and/or you experience frequent episodes of dizziness or fainting.
  • Your pulse or heart rate is higher than normal and/or you experience symptoms such as sensation of a pounding heartbeat or palpitations (flopping in the chest), shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Your blood pressure reading goes higher than 120/80 mm Hg with or without symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, irregular heart beat, nosebleed and/or vision problems on more than one occasion.
  • Your blood pressure reading goes lower than 90/60 mm Hg with or without symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, blurred vision and fainting on more than one occasion.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Pulse rate and heart rate determine the same number. It refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute or the speed at which the heart beats.
  • Blood pressure is the force exerted by the flowing blood on the walls of your arteries. 
  • Pulse rate and blood pressure are two different numbers that determine cardiovascular health. They are not interrelated and they are not the same. 
  • You can measure your pulse rate using an activity tracker, other digital devices or manually using the first two fingers of your hand. You can get your blood pressure measured by your doctor or at home using digital blood pressure monitors.
  • Various factors can affect the pulse rate including air temperature, obesity, body position, and emotional state. Blood pressure may vary due to environmental factors, age, sex, lifestyle habits, stress, and medications.
  • Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, avoiding drinking and smoking, and managing your stress levels can help lower your pulse rate as well as your blood pressure levels. 
  • A low heart rate is usually treated with lifestyle changes, medication, treatment of the underlying cause, or a pacemaker. Low blood pressure is managed by treating the underlying health condition and with healthy lifestyle changes. Medication may also be needed to bring up your BP levels.
  • If you experience frequent episodes of abnormal pulse rate (above 100 bpm or below 60 bpm) or abnormal blood pressure levels (above 120/80 mm Hg or below 90/60 mm Hg), or experience any related symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India's leading cardiologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate BP monitors and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Hypertension Management Program which provides ‎360º care. Let's treat low/high blood pressure problems together.

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