If you are asked to describe what a doctor looks like, it is a good chance you will mention something about a long, white coat and a stethoscope hanging around their neck. That is because stethoscopes are used to listen to a patient’s heart and chest cavity which is vital for a healthy body. Doctors use this tool as part of a non-invasive examination procedure, commonly listening for sounds of congestion in the lungs and irregular heartbeats. Nurses may also use them to listen for restored blood flow during blood pressure checks, among other procedures.

The three major parts of a stethoscope are the headset, tubing and chestpiece. The headset is composed of the earpieces and the metal ear tubes. The earpieces direct sound down the user’s ear canal and toward the eardrum, the metal ear tubes give the headset support. The tubing is composed of either one or two shafts. The chestpiece of the stethoscope features the bell, chill ring, and diaphragm. The bell amplifies low frequencies, and the diaphragm amplifies higher ones. The chill ring stands between the patient’s chest and the chestpiece.

There are two different types of stethoscopes, which include acoustic and electronic. On acoustic models, high frequencies are picked up by the diaphragm and low frequencies are amplified by the bell. Acoustic models are extremely efficient, but if there could be any complaint against them it would be their low frequency amplification. Electronic models feature an equalizer, noise filter and extended range to give doctors clean and crisp sound. The equalizer allows doctors to adjust the sound to various parameters. The noise filters allows doctors to pick up only relevant sounds, and the extended range allows for higher and lower frequencies.

While it is not difficult to use a stethoscope, it takes a fair amount of skill and study to fully utilize a stethoscope to its fullest potential.

  • Inspect the stethoscope for quality and damage. The best tubing is think, short, and relatively stiff.
  • For the clearest results, find a quiet area to ensure that the body sounds are not overpowered by background noises.
  • Insert each of two earpieces into your ears and be sure that the earpieces fit tightly and have a good seal to keep out ambient sounds.
  • Use the stethoscope on bare skin to avoid picking up the sound of rustling fabric.
  • Hold the chestpiece up to the person’s chest or heart, and you should listen for a steady ‘lub-dub’ noise.