Weak or Absent Pulse

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A weak pulse means there is difficulty detecting a person’s pulse, whereas an absent pulse means that there is no pulse detected at all, which can signify a serious medical situations. In cases where no pulse is detected from any pulse point on the body, and it is accompanied by loss of consciousness, the local emergency number should be called immediately.

A weak or absent pulse may affect just one part or the whole of the body. In cases where a pulse is not detected by a non-medical professional, it does not necessarily denote a medical problem, as it may be difficult to detect pulses in certain areas in the body. The most common pulse points of the body are the wrist, neck and groin area.

Cause of Weak or Absent Pulse

There are many possible causes for weak or absent pulse. In majority of these cases, it is a medical emergency. In situations where they are not, they are typically caused by improper techniques.

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Shock
  • Incorrect technique to feel the pulse
  • Naturally weak pulse that may be difficult to detect without proper instruments

Accompanying Symptoms of Weak or Absent Pulse

In cases any of the following symptoms accompany weak or absent pulse, it may be indicate a medical emergency:

  • Chest pain which may radiate to the arms and legs
  • Quick or abnormal heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dyspnea
  • Clammy skin
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness

How to Detect a Weak or Absent Pulse

There are several regions to determine the pulse. The pulse is usually detected in an area where the artery passes close to the skin, such as the neck or the wrist, but it can also be performed in other locations. In most emergency cases, pulse is checked by the neck.

  • Lay the person on a firm surface. However, if there is a suspected head or spinal injury, do not attempt to move the person.
  • Walk to the person’s side and kneel near the head.
  • Position the index and middle fingers of one hand on the groove of the neck. Do not use the thumb as it has its own artery.
  • Slightly press the two fingers on the skin until pulse is felt.If pulse is not felt, press slightly harder or search for the artery using the fingers and press again.

First Aid Management for Weak or Absent Pulse

If the victim is unconscious and not breathing with no pulse detected, it is necessary to give first aid and perform CPR. To give CPR:

  • Place own hand on the on the center of the person’s chest and place the second hand on top of the first. Lean in with the shoulders and apply pressure to the person’s chest by pushing down at least 2 inches. Count one and release the pressure. Give 30 chest compressions.
  • After chest compressions, give 2 rescue breaths.To give a rescue breath, tilt the chin upward and backwards to prevent any obstruction in the airways. Pinch nostril of casualty and cover the mouth of the victim
    Weak or Absent Pulse
    Absent Pulse

    using own mouth.

  • Repeat cycle of 30 chest compressions and 2 rescue breaths until signs of circulation are observed.

Determining the presence of pulse in medical emergencies is very important as part of checking the CABs of First Aid. In cases where no pulse is detected, initiating CPR is necessary, as it may just save a life. To learn how to give proper CPR in cases when there is a weak or absent pulse, sign up for CPR Courses with workplace approved Training available all over the country.


Kahn, April. (2012). Weak or Absent Pulse.Healthline.Retrieved on October 5, 2013, from http://www.healthline.com/health/pulse-weak-or-absent?toptoctest=expand

Pulse – weak or absent. (2011). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on October 5, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003078.htm

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