The stethoscope is a device that helps physicians or healthcare providers listen to the internal organs, such as lungs, heart and bowel sounds, and it is also used to check blood pressure. It helps to amplify the internal sounds.

Why is it such an important tool?

“We listen to the heart and diagnose different diseases based on what we hear,” Dr. Le said. “Without the stethoscope, we couldn’t hear the heart directly. And most of what we do [as cardiologists] is listening to the heart.”

As a cardiologist, Dr. Le listens for several common abnormalities when he uses his stethoscope. Some of those are:

  • A narrow valve, possibly due to aortic stenosis. If the patient has this condition, the doctor will be able to hear the murmur and tell what kind of valve is in trouble and evaluate the severity of the problem.
  • Valve leakage. Doctors can hear the tell-tale sounds of a leaky valve, pinpoint which valve is leaking and the amount of blood leaking.
  • Arrythmias. Physicians can hear if the patient has a normal heart rhythm or if the patient has an abnormal rhythm, called an arrhythmia, like atrial fibrillation.

What are the different parts of the stethoscope and what do they do?

The three most important parts of the stethoscope are the headset, the diaphragm and the chestpiece. The headset is what allows the doctor to hear what is coming through the other parts of the stethoscope. The chestpiece is the piece of the stethoscope that is placed on the patient’s skin. And the diaphragm is the device inside the chestpiece that allows the doctor to hear different frequency sounds.

So, the next time your doctor puts that cold metal chestpiece on your back, you’ll know why he or she is using this important medical tool and what they might be listening for.

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