Watson's water hammer pulse

Watson's water hammer pulse

Watson's water hammer pulse is the medical sign which describes a pulse that is bounding and forceful,[1] or, in other words, rapidly increasing and subsequently collapsing,[2] as if it were the hitting of a water hammer that was causing the pulse.

This is associated with increased stroke volume of the left ventricle and decrease in the peripheral resistance leading to the widened pulse pressure of aortic regurgitation.



"Watson's water hammer pulse" and "Corrigan's pulse" refer to similar observations. However, the former usually refers to measurement of a pulse on a limb, while the latter refers to measurement of the pulse of the carotid artery.[1]

  • "Corrigan's pulse" is named for Sir Dominic Corrigan, the Irish physician, who characterized it in 1832.[3][4]
  • "Watson's water hammer pulse" is named for Thomas Watson, who characterized it in 1844.[1]


To feel a water hammer pulse: with the patient reclining, the examiner raises the patient's arm vertically upwards. The examiner grasps the muscular part of the patient's forearm. A water hammer pulse is felt as a tapping impulse which is transmitted through the bulk of the muscles. This happens because the blood that is pumped to the arm during systole is emptied very quickly due to the gravity effect on the raised arm. This results in the artery emptying back into the heart during diastole, therefore causing a palpable pulse.


Water hammer pulse is commonly found when a patient has in aortic regurgitation. A more comprehensive list of causes follows:

1. Physiological

2. Cardiac lesions

3. Syndromes or High output states

4. Other causes

  • Chronic alcoholism

See also


  1. ^ a b c Suvarna JC (2008). "Watson's water hammer pulse". J Postgrad Med 54 (2): 163–5. doi:10.4103/0022-3859.40791. PMID 18480541. http://www.jpgmonline.com/article.asp?issn=0022-3859;year=2008;volume=54;issue=2;spage=163;epage=165;aulast=Suvarna. 
  2. ^ Elizabeth D Agabegi; Agabegi, Steven S. (2008). Step-Up to Medicine (Step-Up Series). Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 0-7817-7153-6. 
  3. ^ synd/3006 at Who Named It?
  4. ^ D. J. Corrigan. On permanent patency of the mouth of the aorta, or inadequacy of the aortic valves. The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, 1832, 37: 225-245.