What Does a Fluctuating Pulse Mean?

Several factors, including your activity level, age, health and diet, can affect your pulse. Pulse rates fluctuate periodically depending on several factors, but an irregular pulse could indicate an underlying health problem. Check your pulse regularly, and if it frequently fluctuates, consult your physician.

Normal Fluctuations

It's normal for your heart rate to fluctuate somewhat throughout the day. During periods of activity, the heart must supply more blood to the organs, and therefore must beat more rapidly. Exercise and even walking up stairs can typically elevate your pulse. Stress can also affect your pulse rate, and if you notice that your pulse has increased before an interview or speech, it probably indicates anxiety rather than a health problem. Similarly, the pulse rate tends to go down during periods of rest, such as immediately before falling asleep and upon waking. Your pulse rate should be steady during these daily fluctuations, and it should not feel as if your pulse occasionally misses a beat or adds an extra beat.

Heart Arrhythmia Causes

Health Dangers of Phentermine

Learn More

The technical term for an irregular heart rate is arrhythmia. High blood pressure, blood clots and other heart problems can cause irregular beats. However, an irregular heart rate isn't always caused by heart problems. Dehydration and magnesium deficiency can both contribute to pulse problems. Thyroid disease, stimulant medications and chronic stress may also cause your heart to beat irregularly. Sick sinus syndrome -- a condition that affects the heart's pacemaker -- may also cause a fluctuating pulse.

Arrhythmia Risks

Many heart arrhythmias are harmless and only last a few seconds. However, atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart beats rapidly but inefficiently, which can result in low blood supply to the organs and fainting. You may have trouble breathing, experience tingling in your extremities or have trouble concentrating. Atrial fibrillation may also indicate a heart attack or stroke, so any time an arrhythmia lasts more than a few seconds, you should seek medical care immediately. If you regularly experience brief periods of an irregular heart beat, consult your doctor, as this may be the first clue to an underlying heart problem.

Treatment and Tests

How to Hear Your Own Heartbeat Without a Stethoscope

Learn More

Your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, ask you to keep track of the irregular beats, ask questions about your diet and lifestyle or perform a stress test. Treatment for an irregular pulse depends on its cause. If your doctor discovers an underlying medical condition such as diabetes or a thyroid problem, he may prescribe medication. You may also need to make lifestyle changes such as altering your diet, controlling your blood pressure through medication and exercise or minimizing your stress. If the arrhytmia is caused by a heart attack or blood clot, you may need immediate medical care such as bypass surgery.