Common Carotid Pulse

content of this page

1- Introduction

2- Anatomical Overview

3- Procedure

4- Clinical Significance


The common carotid pulse is a vital indicator of cardiovascular health and function. Located bilaterally in the neck, these arteries supply blood to the head and neck regions, making their palpation a key component of clinical assessments. The pulse is typically felt just medial to the sternocleidomastoid muscle and lateral to the trachea. Monitoring its strength, rhythm, and symmetry provides valuable insights into cardiac output and vascular integrity. Understanding the common carotid pulse is essential in various medical contexts, from routine physical examinations to emergency medicine, guiding diagnostic and therapeutic decisions to ensure optimal patient care.

© image from Moore Clinically Oriented Anatomy

Anatomical Overview

The internal carotid arteries arise in the neck from the common carotid arteries. The cervical part of each artery ascends vertically through the neck, without branching, to the cranial base. Each internal carotid artery enters the cranial cavity through the carotid canal in the petrous part of the temporal bone. The intracranial course of the internal carotid artery is illustrated and described in and demonstrated radiographically in. In addition to the carotid arteries, the carotid canals contain venous plexuses and carotid plexuses of sympathetic nerves. The internal carotid arteries course anteriorly through the cavernous sinuses with the abducent nerves (CN VI) and in close proximity to the oculomotor (CN III) and trochlear (CN IV) nerves. The arteries run in the carotid groove located on the side of the body of the sphenoid. The terminal branches of the internal carotid arteries are the anterior and middle cerebral arteries.

© image from


The carotid pulse (“neck pulse”) is easily felt by palpating the common carotid artery in the side of the neck, where it lies in a groove between the trachea and the infrahyoid muscles. It is usually easily palpated just deep to the anterior border of the SCM at the level of the superior border of the thyroid cartilage. It is routinely checked during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Absence of a carotid pulse indicates cardiac arrest.

Clinical Significance

  • Cardiac Output Assessment: The strength and regularity of the common carotid pulse provide insights into the heart’s efficiency in pumping blood. A strong, regular pulse typically indicates adequate cardiac output, whereas a weak or irregular pulse may suggest cardiac dysfunction or reduced stroke volume.

  • Blood Pressure Monitoring: The common carotid pulse is crucial in assessing blood pressure indirectly. By palpating the pulse and measuring its strength, healthcare providers can estimate systolic blood pressure, especially when direct measurement isn’t feasible.

  • Diagnostic Tool: Abnormalities in the common carotid pulse, such as diminished amplitude or variations in rhythm, can indicate underlying cardiovascular conditions. These include hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart valve disorders, and arrhythmias, prompting further investigation and appropriate management.

  • Assessment of Vascular Integrity: Palpation of the common carotid pulse allows clinicians to assess vascular integrity and detect abnormalities like arterial stenosis or occlusion. Changes in pulse characteristics (e.g., weak or absent pulse) can signal compromised blood flow to the brain, necessitating urgent evaluation and intervention.

  • Clinical Examinations: In clinical settings, such as routine physical examinations or emergency medicine, assessing the common carotid pulse is fundamental. It provides immediate information about a patient’s cardiovascular status and guides subsequent diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.

  • Monitoring Response to Treatment: Changes in the common carotid pulse over time can indicate the effectiveness of medical interventions or treatments aimed at managing cardiovascular conditions. Regular assessment helps healthcare providers adjust therapies based on patient response.

Scroll to Top