man with hand to head

Does feeling a pulse or heartbeat in your head mean you have an aneurysm?

There are two ways to experience feeling a pulse in your head.

The first way is by passively feeling the sensation occurring inside your head or, to put it another way, under your scalp or beneath the top of your head.

The second way that comes to mind would be through a fingertip that’s pressed to some area of your head, such as the top, back or mid-side. You then feel a pulse coming through to the fingertip.

Heartbeat Inside Your Head: Aneurysm?

“Feeling the pulse from within the head is unusual, and most often is caused by any condition that increases the force of heart beating, such as with anxiety or exertion,” says Morton Tavel, MD, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, and author of “HEALTH TIPS, MYTHS, AND TRICKS: A Physician’s Advice.”

“During periods of quiet, as seen when one is resting quietly in bed awaiting sleep, even a normal pulse can be felt, especially if the head is resting with the ear on the pillow,” continues Dr. Tavel.

“In this latter case, even the minor head motion caused by the pulse can be heard.”

Feeling a Pulse Through
a Finger Pressed on Your Head

What you are feeling is the pulse in your fingertip. But because it’s placed firmly on your head, there’s an illusion that the pulse is coming from under your skull.

Between your finger and your scalp, and the arteries of your brain, is the skull. There is no way that your fingers would be able to detect any blood flow through the brain’s blood vessels.

To confirm that you’re feeling your heartbeat through your finger, press it on an inanimate object. You may need to try different angles before you get a pulse.

There are parts of your body, however, where the fingertip really can feel the blood flowing through an artery.

Your wrist is one of them. Doctors and nurses will also feel the posterior tibial artery at the ankle to get a pulse.

The only part of your head that has a true pulse point is the temporal region: the temple.

If that’s where your fingers have been, then yes, you really have been feeling a heartbeat in your head. And this is as normal as feeling it in your wrist.

Another pulse point is in the neck. “Palpation of the pulse leading to the head can often be accomplished by placing the fingers over the side of the neck where the carotid artery can be felt,” says Dr. Tavel.

If feeling the pulse through the head were an effective way to gauge a patient’s health or condition, doctors and nurses would be routinely palpating their patients’ heads.

But they don’t for a reason: Your fingers cannot literally feel a pulse in your head – unless placed over the temple region.

As for a brain aneurysm, these dilated blood vessels cannot be detected by fingers palpating the head.

morton tavel, MD

Dr. Tavel’s medical research includes over 125 publications, editorials and book reviews in peer-reviewed national medical journals. He was formerly director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at St. Vincent Hospital in Indiana.