Stethoscopes are simple yet effective tools that allow doctors to listen to the internal sounds in a patient’s body. Doctors can use stethoscopes to listen to a patient’s heart, intestines, breathing, and blood flow.
A French doctor named Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec invented the first stethoscope in 1816. Dr. Laennec used a hollow wooden tube to listen to the heartbeat of his female patients so that he wouldn’t have to come into improper contact with them by touching his head to their chests. He discovered that the hollow wooden tube amplified the sound of the heart beating, making it much easier to hear any anomalies. He called his invention a stethoscope, after the Greek words for chest (stethos) and the verb to examine (scopeein). The design remained relatively unchanged until the 1940s, when Dr. Sprague and Maurice Rappaport investigated the scientific principles behind stethoscopy and created the basic model that is used today.
Stethoscopes are primarily used to listen to a person’s heartbeat. Most stethoscopes have a two-sided piece that can be placed against a person’s chest. One side is a flat plastic diaphragm that magnifies body sounds. The other side of this piece is a hollow cup, called a bell, that transmits the sound of the patient’s skin vibrating. The bell picks up low frequency sounds, while the diaphragm is good for hearing sounds at a higher frequency. The doctor can listen to a person’s heartbeat with either side and can hear any problems such as an irregular beat, weak heartbeat, or a number of other irregularities.
Doctors can hear any blockage or irregular movement in the intestines with stethoscopes. Stethoscopes are also used to listen for blocked arteries and breathing irregularities.
Stethoscopes are vital tools that allow doctors to detect any irregular sounds in a patient’s body, letting them diagnose and treat problems before they become more serious.