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Pulse - weak or absent

Alternative names

Weak pulse; Absent pulse


Difficulty in feeling a pulse or an inability to detect a pulse at all. See also the information on CPR for more information about first-aid procedures.


An absent or weak pulse may affect one limb or affect the whole body.

The absence of a pulse as determined by a lay person may not indicate a problem. Sometimes the process itself of feeling for a pulse (such as in the wrist) can make a pulse hard to detect.

Common Causes

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

Home Care

Follow the treatment prescribed by your health care provider. CPR may be necessary!

Call your health care provider if

  • There is any sudden, severe, or persistent decrease in the pulse quality or rate, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Shock is suspected. This can be life-threatening. Take emergency measures now!

Your medical provider will obtain a medical history, do a physical exam, and ask questions like:
  • 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 also present?
Physical examination may include monitoring of 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:
  • Aortography
  • Arteriography such as extremity arteriography
  • Doppler ultrasonography
  • Blood studies ( CBC or blood differential )
  • ECG
  • Echocardiography
  • X-rays of the chest

Update Date: 6/8/2003

David Webner, M.D., Department of Family Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT