What Is a Stethoscope Used for?

By Joel Perkhed

Doctors, nurses, and a host of other medical practitioners are often seen with a stethoscope hanging around their neck. Ever wondered what is a stethoscope? What do you use a stethoscope for? How does it work? What are its functions? When your doctor examines your lungs or your heart, he tries to identify any abnormal sound produced inside your body.

A Stethoscope is an instrument used to amplify the sounds produced by heart, lungs and body’s pulse points. It also helps health professionals to hear bowel sounds and blood flow noises in arteries and veins.

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What are the various types of stethoscopes?

There are mainly two types of stethoscopes. One is acoustic and the other electronic. Acoustic Stethoscopes are the general stethoscopes that you normally see when you visit your doctor.

These stethoscopes operate on the transmission of sound from the chest piece, via an air-filled tube to a person’s ears. One common problem with the acoustic stethoscopes is that they don’t amplify the sound much.

On the other hand, an electronic stethoscope overcomes the low noise amplification problem as these amplify the sounds electronically. These stethoscopes are generally wireless, expensive and offer features like remote diagnosis.

There are other types of stethoscopes as well such as, Fetal, Doppler, 3D Printed, and Recording.

The different stethoscopes serves different purposes. Some are good? for em?t (emergency) and others for more general use.?

Different parts of a stethoscope and their functions

Knowing parts and names of the stethoscope can help you gain a better understanding of a stethoscope and its functions. The various parts of a stethoscope include: eartube, eartips, headset, tubing, chest-piece, stem, diaphragm, and bell.

  • Eartube acts as a connector between eartips and hollow tubing.
  • Eartips allows sound to be heard by the user.
  • Headsets ensure the optimal flow of sound in the ears.
  • Tubing transmits sound from the chestpiece to the earpieces.
  • Chestpiece is either single-sided or double-sided.
  • Stem connects the stethoscopes tubing to the chest-piece.
  • Diaphragm refers to the large circular end of the chest-piece.
  • The bell is the smaller circular end of the chest-piece.

How does a stethoscope work?

You all know that a stethoscope is a vital component in a medical professional’s working life. Do you know how does a stethoscope amplify the sound of your hear beat? What happens inside a stethoscope when it is placed on a patient’s chest?

The sound heard through a stethoscope depends mainly on three factors: vibrations present at the chest wall, the perception of sound by the human ear and the acoustics of the stethoscope itself.

When the chest piece is placed on the skin, vibrations within in the body are amplified by either the bell or diaphragm. These acoustic pressure waves then travel through the tube to the earpieces and into your ears.

The history behind stethoscopes

The first stethoscope was invented in 1816 in France by Doctor René Laennec at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital. The traditional stethoscope back then didn’t look how it looks now. It consisted of a wooden tube. Dr. Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec (1816) rolled up a sheet of paper and placed one end over the patient’s heart and the other end over his ear.

Dr. Laennec later replaced the rolled paper with a wooden tube (similar in appearance to a candlestick) which was called “stethoscope” from the Greek words “stethos” (chest) and “skopein” (to look at). By discovering and perfecting the acoustic trumpet, Laennec became the father of auscultation.

The design of the stethoscope remained similar for the next four decades, however small alterations were made by other doctors.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes occurred in 1961 by Dr. David Littmann, a cardiologist at West Roxbury VA Hospital in Massachusetts. He designed a streamlined, lightweight stethoscope, with a single tube binaural, which was available in both stainless steel and light alloy.

Summary

The stethoscope is often referred to as “Doctor’s Weapon”. A stethoscope allows healthcare providers to listen to and detect potential health problems that patients may be having. A stethoscope enables the doctors to hear normal and abnormal respiratory, cardiac, pleural, arterial, venous, uterine, fetal and intestinal sounds.

The electronic stethoscope increases the level of the sound. It converts the sounds made by the body into digital signals. These can then be amplified and processed. Most stethoscopes are binaural; that is, they are designed for use with both ears.

It is very important to clean the stethoscope after every use—especially when placed directly on the patient’s skin. This mitigates the risk of any kind of infection due to the use of the same stethoscope.

I hope that this write-up answered your queries: what is a stethoscope and what’s a stethoscope used for.

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