How to Use a Stethoscope to Listen to the Heart and Lungs

A stethoscope is a medical device used to listen to the internal sounds from a persons body, primarily the heart and lungs and to measure blood pressure. The diaphragm of the stethoscope is placed on a persons skin and vibrations are carried through the tubes into the ear piece placed in the listeners ears. It’s not difficult to learn how to use a stethoscope and in this article I will cover everything you would need to know.

Basic Components of a Stethoscope:​

In order to utilize your new stethoscope to it’s maximum capacity, it’s important that you learn, know, and understand the basic components of a stethoscope. Here’s a quick description of the basc parts, and you can click on the image to the right to read more and see a large diagram.

  • Diaphragm

The flat circular piece constructed from metal at the end of the stethoscope used to capture low pitched sounds.

  • Bell

This is a smaller cup-shaped object on the back of the diaphragm used to capture high pitched sounds.

  • Acoustic Tubing

Sounds are transmitted from the diaphragm or bell through the acoustic tubing to the earpieces via the ear tubes.

  • Ear Tubes

Between the earpieces and the acoustic tubing there are short tubes, usually constructed of metal they transmit low-frequency sound better.

  • Earpieces

Soft rubber earpieces are used to help block out external sounds and carry the sound from the diaphragm effectively.

How to Use a Stethoscope – The Basics

If you are practicing you can use a stethoscope on yourself if you do not have someone with you willing to let you practice on them. You can listen to the heart with a stethoscope by placing the diaphragm as near as possible. The heart is located just behind and slightly left of the breastbone, between the 4th and 6th ribs. Place the diaphragm of the stethoscope on the skin and listen to the heartbeat, move it around a little and listen for the loudest place.

A normal heartbeat sounds like ‘’lub-dub’’ as the heart contracts. While just about everyone is familiar with the sound of a heartbeat it’s not uncommon to hear some other sounds. Heart murmurs make a ‘swoosh’ noise as blood flows through a valve that may not be opening fully. Do not be alarmed if you hear any of these other noises on yourself or someone else, it’s likely not affecting them in any way.

Stethoscopes are used to listen to a person’s lungs too. Place the stethoscope over your chest and listen as you breathe in and out slowly. Again, move the stethoscope around the chest area and compare sounds to find the strongest area. Try flipping the diaphragm over and use the bell to and compare how different the sounds are between the two methods. Normal sounding lungs should not have any wheezing or crackling.

Getting the Most out of Your Stethoscope

Maximizing the acoustics of a stethoscope is important for maintaining a clear reception of the noise you are listening to. Always use an earpiece that fits tightly into your ear, this will stop external noise and help you to hear through the stethoscope better. Don’t bend the tubes too tightly or you risk damaging them. There is a reason why you see doctors carrying their stethoscopes around their necks.It’s not a fashion statement, more so because trying to fit it into one of their pockets will damage the tubes or get dirt into the earpieces.

Now that you know how to use a stethoscope to listen for irregular heartbeats and abnormal noises from people’s lungs remember to act responsibly. If you are not a trained medical professional do not attempt to diagnose any health problems you may think you notice while using a stethoscope. If you hear any irregular noise that gives you cause for concern contact a professional at once.


Last updated 08/2016

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