Apical Pulse vs. Radial Pulse

What's the Difference?

Apical pulse and radial pulse are two different methods of measuring a person's heart rate. The apical pulse is taken by placing a stethoscope on the chest, directly over the apex of the heart, and counting the number of beats heard per minute. This method provides a more accurate measurement of the heart's activity as it directly listens to the heart's contractions. On the other hand, the radial pulse is taken by placing two fingers on the radial artery, located on the wrist, and counting the number of beats felt per minute. This method is more convenient and commonly used in everyday situations. While both methods provide information about the heart rate, the apical pulse is considered more reliable in certain situations, such as when a patient has an irregular heartbeat or when accuracy is crucial.


AttributeApical PulseRadial Pulse
LocationApex of the heartWrist
Palpation MethodUsing a stethoscopeUsing fingers
RateMeasured in beats per minute (BPM)Measured in beats per minute (BPM)
RhythmRegular or irregularRegular or irregular
StrengthStrong or weakStrong or weak
CharacteristicsProvides more accurate assessment of heart functionCommonly used for routine pulse assessment

Further Detail


The human body is a complex system with various vital signs that help healthcare professionals assess a person's overall health. Two important vital signs are the apical pulse and the radial pulse. Both of these pulses provide valuable information about a person's heart rate and rhythm. In this article, we will explore the attributes of the apical pulse and the radial pulse, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Apical Pulse

The apical pulse refers to the heartbeat that can be felt by placing a stethoscope over the apex of the heart, which is located at the fifth intercostal space in the midclavicular line. This pulse is considered the most accurate representation of the heart's activity as it directly measures the contractions of the ventricles. The apical pulse is typically measured for a full minute to obtain an accurate heart rate reading.

One of the key attributes of the apical pulse is its reliability. Since it is measured directly at the source, it provides a precise assessment of the heart's activity. This makes it particularly useful in situations where accuracy is crucial, such as when monitoring patients with cardiac conditions or during certain medical procedures.

Another attribute of the apical pulse is its sensitivity. It can detect subtle changes in heart rate and rhythm that may not be easily noticeable through other methods. This sensitivity allows healthcare professionals to identify irregularities or abnormalities in the heart's function, which can be vital for diagnosing and treating various cardiovascular conditions.

Furthermore, the apical pulse is not affected by factors such as peripheral vascular disease or weak peripheral pulses. This makes it a reliable method for assessing heart rate in individuals with conditions that may affect the peripheral pulses, such as diabetes or arterial disease.

Lastly, the apical pulse is commonly used in pediatric patients, especially infants, as their radial pulses may be difficult to palpate accurately due to their small size and active movements. By using the apical pulse, healthcare professionals can obtain a more accurate heart rate reading in these cases.

Radial Pulse

The radial pulse, on the other hand, refers to the heartbeat that can be felt by placing two fingers (usually the index and middle fingers) on the radial artery, which is located on the thumb side of the wrist. This pulse is easily accessible and commonly used to assess heart rate in various clinical settings.

One of the key attributes of the radial pulse is its convenience. It can be easily palpated by placing fingers on the wrist, making it a quick and accessible method for assessing heart rate. This makes it particularly useful in situations where a rapid assessment is needed, such as during emergency situations or when monitoring a patient's response to physical activity.

Another attribute of the radial pulse is its correlation with the apical pulse. In most cases, the radial pulse is slightly lower than the apical pulse due to the time it takes for the blood to travel from the heart to the wrist. This correlation allows healthcare professionals to estimate the heart rate by palpating the radial pulse, providing a quick approximation of the heart's activity.

Furthermore, the radial pulse can provide information about the quality of the pulse, such as its strength and regularity. By assessing the strength of the pulse, healthcare professionals can gain insights into the peripheral circulation and overall cardiovascular health. Additionally, irregularities in the rhythm of the radial pulse may indicate underlying cardiac conditions that require further investigation.

Lastly, the radial pulse is commonly used in adult patients as it is easily accessible and provides a good representation of the heart's activity. It is particularly useful in monitoring heart rate during routine check-ups, physical examinations, or when assessing a patient's response to medication or treatment.


Both the apical pulse and the radial pulse are valuable methods for assessing a person's heart rate and rhythm. While the apical pulse provides a more accurate and sensitive measurement directly at the source, the radial pulse offers convenience and quick estimation. Understanding the attributes of both pulses allows healthcare professionals to choose the most appropriate method based on the clinical situation and the patient's specific needs. By utilizing these vital signs effectively, healthcare professionals can gain valuable insights into a person's cardiovascular health and provide appropriate care and treatment.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.