Stethoscope, Doctor's Fifth Limb, Continues to Serve
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