The stethoscope is an instrument used to listen and amplify the sounds produced by the heart, lungs, and other internal organs.
As medics, we must have used the stethoscope on several occasions. Today, the most iconic image of the medical profession is the stethoscope.
René Laennec invented the stethoscope in 1816. While consulting a female patient, Laennec needed to listen to the chest of a female patient. Before the stethoscope, doctors would place their ear directly onto the chest of a patient – a practice called auscultation. As the patient was somewhat overweight, Laennec thought it both improper and inadequate to place his head on her chest and listen directly. He rolled up a sheet of paper into a tube and placed one end on the chest of the patient. The tubing magnified sound, and Laennec found he could hear her lung sounds with ease by putting his ear to the open end. The hollow wooden tube soon replaced the rolled-up piece of paper. Laennec named his invention the stethoscope.
By the 1850s, the stethoscope had become one of the doctor’s vital tools. Learning to listen and diagnose the sounds from the chest became a crucial part of a doctor’s training.
The rubber and now plastic, binaural stethoscope, like the ones used today, replaced the hollow wooden tube in the 1890s. These stethoscopes have two earpieces and a bell-like end that we place on the body. We not only use the stethoscopes to listen to the chest but also other parts of the body like the bowels. Engineers manufactured the first electronic stethoscopes that amplify the sounds in the chest and produce graphs were in the 1970s – they continue to refine them.