Heart Health

07 June 2010

Pulse of the nation picks up

Soccer legend Lucas Radebe has urged the thousands of fans descending upon SA for the World Cup kick-off to become more aware of their pulse rate during World Health Rhythm Week.

While thousands of fans descend upon South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup kick off, individuals around the globe will also become more aware of their pulse rate during World Heart Rhythm Week ( 7- 13 June 2010).

The theme this year is "know your pulse" and the initiative’s aim is to raise awareness about heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and sudden cardiac arrest or death (SCA). These conditions can occur in apparently healthy, young and fit people, and are often caused by an arrhythmic (out of rhythm) heartbeat of which the person is unaware. 

Soccer legend, Lucas Radebe, recently led thousands of football fans in a world record attempt to have the most people take their pulse at the same time, during halftime at the Nedbank Cup Final at Soccer City.

Mark Vivien Foe

Lucas, in partnership with PACE (Prevent Arrhythmic Cardiac Events), took a moment to remember Mark Vivien Foe, a Cameroonian football player who died of SCA during a match. PACE – an NGO founded in 2004 by Lusan Luscombe, Prof A Okreglicki and Prof Paul Brink - aims to raise awareness about arrhythmic cardiac conditions and provide support for those affected by it.

He also highlighted that arrhythmia conditions can afflict even the greatest and bravest heroes: “One day I was at the gym and suddenly collapsed. It turned out I had a heart condition and I now have a pacemaker and can live a normal life. Being aware of your pulse is important because it may indicate an abnormal heart rhythm.”

The FIFA Medical Committee views the prevention of SCA as a major objective of their preventive and educational efforts. To this end, a standardised pre-competition medical assessment of all players was implemented at FIFA competitions and an emergency action plan for incidents on the pitch and in stadiums is part of the requirements for local organisers and promoted by the "Football emergency medicine programme" of FIFA.


Symptoms or indications of possible life-threatening arrhythmia include unusual fainting episodes or collapse; palpitations associated with dizziness and shortness of breath; discomfort; pain or pressure in the chest during exercise and unexplained seizure disorder. 

Arrhythmias resulting in SCA must be considered as the cause of death in: death attributed to asthma or epilepsy; death during or shortly after vigorous exercise and death caused seemingly by a ‘heart attack’ or ‘natural causes’. Not all arrhythmias are dangerous; some may be just a nuisance, but it may require an expert to tell the difference.

The prevention, management and treatment of arrhythmic cardiac conditions and SCA include raising awareness of the symptoms and treatment, medication, ablation (a procedure to correct the electrical disorder in the heart) and surgery.

Other methods include electrical cardioversion or defibrillation (shocking the heart), heart transplants and the implantation of a device such as a pacemaker, which regulates the heart beat, or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), a device which paces and automatically shocks the heart back into a regular rhythm when necessary.

The "Know Your Pulse" world record attempt at Soccer City was sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation, which aims to improve the health of people with chronic diseases and educate future generations through grants and community involvement. 

Check your pulse in four easy steps:

  • To assess your resting pulse rate in your wrist, sit down for 5 minutes beforehand. Remember that any stimulants taken before the reading will affect the rate (such as caffeine or nicotine). You will need a watch or clock with a second hand.
  • Take off your watch and hold your left of right hand out with your palm facing up and your elbow slightly bent.
  • With your other hand place your index and middle fingers on your wrist, at the base of your thumb. Your fingers should sit between the bone on the edge of your wrist and the stringly tendon attached to your thumb. You may need to move your fingers around a little to find the pulse. Keep firm pressure on your wrist with your fingers in order to feel your pulse.
  • Count for 30 seconds, and multiply by 2 to get your heart rate in beats per minute. If your heart rhythm is irregular, you should count for 1 minute (and do not multiply). 

When should I check my pulse?

It is a good idea to try taking your pulse at various points throughout the day (before and after various activities). Your pulse rate will change during the day depending on what activity you are doing. This is normal. To get your baseline pulse and normal rhythm, try taking your resting pulse when you wake in the morning and before going to bed. 

What is a normal pulse?

Between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

However, there are normal reasons why your pulse may be slower or faster. This may be due to your age, medications, caffeine, level of fitness, any other illness including heart conditions, stress and anxiety.

When should I seek further advice?

  • If your pulse seems to be racing some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell.
  • If your pulse seems to be slow some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell.
  • If your pulse feels irregular ("jumping around"), even if you do not feel unwell.

Everyone is different and it is difficult to give precise guidelines. Certainly many people may have pulse rates over 100beats/min (bpm) and less than 60 bpm. Irregularity is quite difficult to assess since the normal pulse is a bit irregular, varying with the phase of respiration. You should see your doctor if you have a presistent heart rate of above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm.

- (PACE press release, Health24, June 2010)

Read more:

Heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)

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