Heartbeat assessment in infants: A comparison of four clinical methods

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Objective:To compare the performance of four clinical methods (apex ear auscultation; brachial, carotid, and femoral pulse palpation) for detecting and counting heart beat in infants.Design:Cross-sectional, repeated-measures study design. Prospective data collection.Setting:A postanesthesia care unit of a pediatric teaching hospital in Italy.Patients:Fifty-six normotensive sedated infants, aged 1–12 mos, were evaluated by 14 pediatric basic life support (PBLS)-qualified health professionals.Interventions:None.Measurements and Main Results:The proportion of successful heartbeat detections ranged from 60% with carotid pulse palpation to 98% with apex auscultation. Among successful detections, apex auscultation proved to be the most rapid way to detect heart rate (median, 4 secs) and the most accurate with a median discrepancy of 8 beats/min (vs. 12 with the other methods) from the electrocardiographic results. Differences between apex auscultation and pulse palpation were statistically significant (p < .0001). In contrast, no significant differences were found among the three methods of pulse checking.Conclusions:Apex listening is the most successful, rapid, and accurate method to detect and count the heartbeat by PBLS-certified professionals in normotensive infants without instruments. Pulse checking remains important for assessing the effectiveness of circulation. Palpating the brachial, carotid, or femoral pulse is equally effective.

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