The Stethoscope: Almost 200 years old!
by Mobb Medical
“A wonderful instrument called the stethoscope, invented a few months ago … is now in complete vogue in Paris.” (London Times December 19, 1824)
From the time the stethoscope was invented in 1816, it was the physician’s most reliable tool for diagnosing cardiovascular disease. At the turn of the century, most physicians relied on patient history, along with a stethoscope examination of the heart. Rene Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec, the stethoscope’s inventor, was the first to use the vital diagnostic instrument we now take for granted. Laennac was aware that, by putting your ear to one end of a plank and scraping a pin at the other end, the sound of the pin traveled. One day, as he examined an obese young woman, Laennec hesitatingly put his head to her chest. It was then that he conceived of the stethoscope, rolling a stack of paper into a cylinder, pressing one end to the patient’s chest and his ear to the other.
Laennec remarked, “I was surprised and pleased to hear the beating of the heart much more clearly than if I had applied my ear directly to the chest.”
In 1863, the sphygmograph was invented as a means of measuring blood pressure. Via a spring pressed one end of a lever onto the wrist, the artery could be compressed, and its movements measured, but the instrument was both cumbersome and inaccurate.
George Camman improved on Laennac’s stethoscope design in 1850, substituting rubber for too-stiff materials and greater physician comfort. Now, the humble stethoscope could better detect heart sounds, distinguish among various types of murmurs and catch many rhythmic disturbances, as well as improving how physicians understood the movement of blood through each cardiac cycle, even in disease stages. Because of continued improvements to the stethoscope, Russian surgeon Nikolai Korotkoff was able to discover hypertension in 1905.
Today, every lub, dup, murmur and sound can be accurately heard through the stethoscope, saving perhaps thousands of innocent lives. Despite more sophisticated diagnostic methods, the use of the stethoscope continues. And with the advent of the Internet, a wide variety of stethoscopes can be purchased easily and affordably, ensuring thousands more can look forward to a healthier future.