Stethoscopes are a common part of a nurse’s or doctor’s uniform. Used as part of a physical examination, the stethoscope can help them hear certain sounds in our bodies that cannot otherwise be heard with just the ear. Depending on where they put the stethoscope they may hear the sounds of the bowels, the lungs and even blood going through an artery. Let’s take a look at the many functions of a stethoscope and how it works.
Function of Stethoscope
If you have a common cold or flu, or suffer from a breathing condition, medical personnel can listen to your breath sounds through a stethoscope. By placing the stethoscope on your lungs, they can hear sounds that alert them to inflammation in the air passages or fluid and congestion.
Your heart normally beats at an even rate. With a stethoscope, doctors and nurses can hear abnormal heart sounds such as; a murmur, irregular rate and other sounds that might not be normal.
When the blood pressure cuff is inflated on your arm, medical personnel are trained to hear the heart beating in the veins. The first beat they hear is the top number of your blood pressure and the last beat they hear is the bottom number. You cannot hear these faint beats without a stethoscope.
As your food digests and even when the digestive system is empty, the stomach and bowels make popping and gurgling noises. While you may be able to hear some of these sounds with your ears, a stethoscope is much more sensitive to these noises. The absence of sound could mean you have an obstruction in your bowels and a large number of noises could signal an infection or illness.
An obstetrician may use a stethoscope to listen to a baby’s heartbeat in the uterus or listen to the baby’s movement in the womb.
How does a Stethoscope Work?
Types of Stethoscopes
You can get a stethoscope of high or lower quality depending on your needs. They come in different colors, lengths, and single or double tubing. Essentially they are all designed to perform the same function. Sounds travel up a distinct “Y-Shaped” length of tubing that is made of rubber. On the bottom-end there is a “bell” that is often two-sided and can be changed for infants and children to a larger adult size. You lay the bell end over the area where you want to listen and the sounds move up the tubing to the ear pieces. There are newer versions that have a bell that is sensitive to pressure. Here are the different types of stethoscopes:
- Single Stethoscopes (Hooks up to one ear)
- Binaural Stethoscopes (Hooks up to both ears)
- Differential Stethoscopes (For comparing sounds in two body regions)
- Electronic Stethoscopes (Amplifies sounds)
- Fetal Stethoscopes (For listening to fetal heart tones)
- Esophageal Stethoscope (For listening to the esophagus)