Stethoscope: an invention that changed medicine

From the age of 14, Rene began to study medicine, and when he was 19, he went to Paris, where he continued his studies under the guidance of such luminaries as Marie-Francois Xavier Bich, Guillaume Dupuytren and Jean Nicole Corvisard de Mare, personal doctor of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In his dissertation “The Hippocratic Doctrine and Practical Medicine”, which Laennec defended in 1804, he developed the idea that one of the most important parts of the art of healing is diagnosis, that is, the study of the patient using objective methods. These included, for example, percussion, tapping with the fingers or palm on the patient’s chest, which was actively developed by Corvisar, and direct auscultation (from the Latin auscultare - listen carefully), putting the ear to the patient’s chest, introduced by Hippocrates in practice. However, Laennec was not a supporter of the latter method: firstly, it was difficult for him to bend down, secondly, such a need confused when examining young women, and thirdly, there were hygienic considerations: many patients had lice at that time.

In 1816, a young lady with signs of heart disease turned to Dr. Laennec. Her physique made percussion and palpation difficult, and age and gender did not allow to resort to the above method. Then Renee remembered that if you put your ear to the end of a wooden stick, you can very clearly hear the sound of a pin striking its other end. Taking the notebook, he folded it tightly and, putting one end to the patient’s atrium, and the other to his own ear, with surprise and joy he heard the heartbeat much louder and more distinctly than previously succeeded. Laannek called this method mediated by auscultation and suggested that it can be useful not only in studying the heartbeat, but also in listening to noise in the chest. Soon Laannek abandoned the paper tube, replacing it with a two-piece wooden device, which he called a stethoscope. In 1819, after three years of experiments at the Necker hospital, the doctor published his classic work On Indirect Auscultation, or A Treatise on the Recognition of Pulmonary and Heart Diseases, based mainly on this new research method. In it, the author described "easily perceptible signs with which the diagnosis of almost all diseases of the lungs, pleura and heart became more reliable and detailed than that obtained by surgical diagnosis with a probe or finger." Prior to the discovery of x-rays, indirect auscultation was the main method for diagnosing heart and lung diseases. However, it is relevant now, and a stethoscope (more precisely, a somewhat improved version of it - a phonendoscope) has become a classic symbol of the medical profession.

The article “Listening Ability” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 10, October 2008). Do you like the article?

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