Using a stethoscope for the first time can be daunting. The following steps will help teach you how to use a stethoscope. You’ll be using your stethoscope like a professional in no time!
Use a quality stethoscope
Using a quality stethoscope is important, and it’ll be easier to learn how to use a stethoscope with quality equipment! Using a better quality stethoscope will make it easier for you to listen to the sounds from your patient’s body.
Generally, single tubed stethoscopes are better than double ones.
The tubes in double tubed stethoscopes can rub together creating noise that can make it hard to hear the sounds from your patient. The best kind of tubing is short, thick and relatively stiff. If you plan to wear the stethoscope around your neck, a longer tube may be better.
Before you begin, make sure that the tubing is free of any leaks by tapping the diaphragm. When you tap the diaphragm you should be able to hear a corresponding sound from the earpiece. If you can’t hear anything, there may be a leak in the tubing.
Adjust the earpieces
Before you begin using the stethoscope, it is important to adjust the earpieces so that they face forward and fit in your ears well. If you don’t adjust the earpieces, you may not be able to hear anything!
When adjusting or changing the earpieces on your stethoscope, it’s a good idea to choose earpieces that fit snugly and create a solid seal with your ears. This will keep out ambient noise.
Choose the best chest piece
Depending on what you are using your stethoscope for, there will be different chest pieces available. Generally, chest pieces will come in different sizes for children and adults. There may also be some small variation between brands.
Position your patient
To listen to the heart or abdomen of your patient, you will want to move your patient into a ‘supine’ position lying down. To listen to the lungs, you may want your patient to sit up.
Remember that the sounds from your patient’s body will vary depending on how you position them. Try and listen from a variety of angles and positions to ensure you fully capture any sounds.
Diaphragm or bell?
Diaphragm vs bell?
As you probably know, the head of a stethoscope has two sides, the diaphragm and bell.
The diaphragm is generally superior for hearing medium or high-pitched sounds. The bell will be better for hearing low-pitched sounds.
If you need super accurate or detailed sound measurements from your patient, you may want to use an electronic stethoscope. Electronic stethoscopes amplify the sounds from a patient’s body, making it even easier to hear the heart and lungs. Electronic stethoscopes can be expensive though.
Listening to the heart
Once you’ve done it a few times, listening to a patient’s heart will become second nature!
To start, position the diaphragm on the upper left part of their chest, approximately where the 4th to 6th ribs meet.
Listen to the heart for a minute or so. When listening, ask your patient to relax and breathe normally so that you can hear the normal sounds of the human heart. A healthy heart will make a “lub-dub, lub-dub” sound.
When listening, count the number of heart beats during the minute. For a normal adult and child over ten the heart will beat around 60-100 times per minute. A well trained athlete may have a heartbeat of around 40-60 beats per minute.
When you’re listening to your patient’s heart, you’ll want to pay attention for any abnormal sounds. Anything that does not sound like the normal “lub-dub, lub-dub” sound can be considered abnormal. If you hear a “whooshing sound” your patient may have what is called a heart murmur.
At its most simple, a heart murmur is blood rushing quickly through the various valves in the heart. For most people, these heart murmurs are relatively benign and innocent, however it can still pay to have it checked out.
Listening to the lungs
To listen to your patients heart, have the patient sit up straight and breath normally. If you are struggling to hear certain sounds, ask the patient to take a deep breath.
Position the diaphragm of your stethoscope over your patient’s upper chest, then along the midclavicular line of the chest, then the lower part of their chest. Make sure you do this on the front and back of the patient to get a good idea of all the sounds.
The normal breathing sounds of your patient will sound “clear”, like listening to someone blowing air into a glass. Abnormal breathing sounds can include: wheezing, “rhonchi” or snoring like sounds, or “rhales” which can sounds like someone popping bubble wrap.
There you have it! We hope you found these tips on how to use a stethoscope useful! Only a few simple steps and you’ll be listening to the sounds of your patient’s body like a pro in no time!