Stethoscope, Doctor's Fifth Limb, Continues to Serve

As Google launched a doodle on February 17 to mark the birthday of the stethoscope’s inventor, French physician René Laennec, City Express takes a look at how the instrument continues to serve doctors in the city.Doctors say that the instrument, along with the white coat, puts the patient at ease instantly. It is now used to listen to the lungs and even intestines

Published: 18th February 2016 04:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th February 2016 04:01 AM   |  A+A-


CHENNAI: Google, through its doodle on Wednesday celebrated the 235th birthday of René Laennec (1781- 1826), who made listening to matters of the heart possible through his invention — the stethoscope.

The story has it that in 1816, René Laennec invented the stethoscope by rolling together paper in the form of a tube and putting it to the patients chest to hear heart sounds, as he felt uncomfortable putting his ears to women’s chests — this was the practice followed in that era. Over time, it evolved from a wooden cylindrical tube to the modern avatar of stethoscope with earpieces and a head, which the doctors today use on their patients.

Those in the medical community swear by the ‘sthet’, which is not only a part of their lives during their daily rounds, but coupled with the white coat, also puts the patient at ease.

“The stethoscope forms one of the most binding features of the doctor-patient relationship with talk and touch being the other factors. Usage of stethoscope is taught to trainee doctors in the second year after anatomy and a few other subjects.

They are first taught to listen to normal heart sounds and later asked to concentrate on identifying murmurs or abnormalities in heart and lung sounds,” says Dr K Kannan, professor and HoD, department of cardiology, Stanley Medical College.

Says Prashant S, who is interning at Madras Medical College, “We get to learn very early about how to do basic readings and over time, learn about the finer aspects of reading sounds and abnormalities of various organs,” he says.

“The steth is still a part of everyday life for us. Whether you are a general physician, a cardiologist or a specialist, the stethoscope is used in almost all aspects of observing, listening to the body and diagnosing.”

Dr Kannan concurs and adds, “Today, the stethoscope is as relevant as it was before if not more. Not just heartbeats,  it’s also used to detect lung contractions, movement of the bowels and small intestines, besides other types of sounds than it was initially invented for.”


The basic stethoscope (Acoustic stethoscope) had two faces – the diaphragm and bell. The diaphragm is used to pick up high-pitched sounds, while the bell is used to listen to very minute/low -pitched sounds like murmurs (sound made when the blood moving through a heart valve), contractions and other in babies and adults

Electronic steths for the new age

Electronic steths, though not a common sight, are used by a handful of doctors abroad. These come with ambient noise cancellation, frequency isolation and modes to listen to heartbeat and lung movements


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp