The Mayo clinic advises us to use our index and long finger to take our carotid pulse:

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Is there a reason to not use other fingers? Do the others have stronger pulses that we want to avoid mistakening?

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: You can use any fingers you want except the thumbs.

You can see the reason for that in the diagram below. Notice that there are two arteries supplying each finger that run down both sides of the finger, but there is a single artery supplying the thumb that runs down the middle of it. That means you can't feel the pulse in your fingers when you press them against something, but you might feel the pulse in your thumb. This can cause you to mistake the pulse you feel in your thumb for a pulse in your carotid (or other) artery, as you suspected.

Image source

Here are the instructions for taking a pulse from another site (emphasis is mine). Note that these instructions apply to any location on the body.

  • Gently place 2 fingers of your other hand on this artery.

  • Do not use your thumb because it has its own pulse that you may feel.

  • Count the beats for 30 seconds; then double the result to get the number of beats per minute.

It might seem tempting to think it's okay to take your own pulse using your thumb, but that's wrong because a pulse wave will reach your carotid before it reaches your hand, so you'll feel the pulse once in your carotid and then again a moment later in your thumb. The result could be you'll count one pulse as two.

Notice that the instructions don't mention which fingers to use. You can use any two you wish, but I just tried it using my ring and little finger. It's less sensitive and so cumbersome I can't imagine why anyone would do that.

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