Cardiology Stethoscope: The Ultimate Guide
Are you turning blue holding your breath trying to better hear a patient’s breath sounds?
Or, perhaps, you’re wondering if you’re merely hearing artifact or a genuine change in someone’s heart?
You want the best stethoscope, especially a cardiology stethoscope to hear the faintest heart murmur.
Whether you’re a seasoned or student medical doctor, nurse, EMT, veterinarian or other healthcare professional, there’s no substitute for “getting it right” the first time when time is of the essence.
Once you have studied normal and abnormal heart, breath and bowel sounds until they are as familiar as your own name, it is time to examine your equipment.
No matter how diligent and disciplined your practice, you are, in essence, only as good as your equipment.
If you cannot hear a broad range of frequencies across the tonal spectrum, you cannot successfully identify patient issues and begin treatment in a timely fashion or, even, in time at all.
In the next few moments, I will tell you a bit about cardiology stethoscopes, including their history, general configuration and how they work.
Then, I’ll spend some time discussing why a cardiology model may (or may not) be a good choice for you.
About the Cardiology Stethoscope
In 1816, Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Launnec, a French doctor, created the world’s first stethoscope by rolling paper into a cone and placing it on a female patient’s chest instead of either palpating it directly or auscultating it with his ear on her chest.
It’s somewhat ironic that such a persistent icon of patient care was initially designed in an effort to avoid physical contact with a patient.
Throughout the intervening centuries, various inventors have added flexible tubing, two earpieces and a few standard chestpiece configurations to create today’s available options.
This is crazy…
Despite numerous revisions, the general principle of the stethoscope remains: to amplify sounds originating from inside the patient’s body.
How a Cardiologist Stethoscope Works
Eight parts are all it takes to make a stethoscope tick. They are:
The eartips are simply the portion of the stethoscope that go into the ears.
They can be made from rubber or silicone.
The binaural, sometimes called the eartube, is the metal portion of the stethoscope which connects the eartips to the flexible tubing.
As the name suggests, the binaural carries sound from the tubing to both ears.
Since this fosters stereo sound, auscultation using a stethoscope is a multidimensional experience which gives clinicians better access to the full spectrum of tones.
Stethoscope tubing is flexible, available in every color of the rainbow and usually measures between 22 and 28 inches.
As with the binaural, tubing serves as a conduit which carries sound from patient to clinician.
The headset, or binaural assembly, consists of everything I’ve described so far.
A properly functioning headset will maximize comfort and sound for the clinician.
The stem serves as a connector between the tubing and the chestpiece.
In addition to allowing the replacement of the headset, some models feature a stem which rotates.
A rotating stem reduces artifact by letting the clinician switch between the diaphragm and bell without twisting the tubing, which creates additional noise.
For many clinicians, the chestpiece is the heart of the stethoscope.
Since this is where the stethoscope contacts the patient, it is quite literally where the action is.
The chestpiece is comprised of the stem, diaphragm and, sometimes, a separate bell.
I say sometimes because many stethoscopes feature a tunable diaphragm which removes the need for a separate bell.
Whatever the configuration, many chestpieces have features like a non-chill and/or non-slip surface which improve patient comfort and clinical efficiency.
Whether it is tunable or a part of a two-sided diaphragm and bell chestpiece, the diaphragm is the large circle or oval side of the chestpiece.
In a traditional two-sided chestpiece, the diaphragm is the choice for transmitting higher pitched sounds, such as normal cardiac sounds, the sound of blood rushing through arteries and breath sounds.
When using a tunable diaphragm, one can hear these higher pitched sounds when applying light pressure to the chestpiece when it is on the patient’s body.
Applying additional pressure will make lower pitched tones audible. For this reason, this type of stethoscope is often called a multifrequency model.
On a traditional stethoscope, the bell is the smaller, round surface of the chestpiece.
It enhances lower pitches so some abnormal cardiac sounds and bowel sounds are easier to hear.
What is a Cardiology Stethoscope Use For
In sum, a stethoscope is a tool used to hear sounds from inside the human body.
A cardiologist stethoscope is designed to hear the softest sounds of the heart.
This includes the various heart murmurs that a patient may have.
It’s also fantastic to hear lung sounds crisp and clear.
Cardiology Stethoscope vs Regular Stethoscope
While there are similar to regular stethoscopes, cardiac stethoscopes have some notable differences.
- Softer, more pliable eartips.
- Dual lumen tubing.
- Durable, replaceable headsets.
To elaborate, most cardiology stethoscopes have eartips made from softer material than their regular counterparts.
These are better at staying in place better and minimizing environmental noise.
They are also far more comfortable than those made from more firm material.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the cardiology model is its dual lumen tubing, which is present even if the two tubes appear to be a single unit from the outside.
This enhances resonance and the stereo sound experience to better convey the range of tones.
In general, cardiology models have more durable headsets.
Even so, the headset takes quite a beating and usually does not last nearly as long as the chestpiece.
It is for this reason that many manufacturers sell replacement headsets for their cardiology stethoscopes.
Cardiology Stethoscope Comparison
Since the data from a stethoscope is so critical, it stands to reason that you should try to get the best stethoscope possible.
Sure, all of the features in the previous section may sound great, but what does the research say?
If you’re skimming through this article and thinking you’re not a cardiologist, so why bother, then this question is for you:
“Why wouldn’t you want better sound quality and a more durable stethoscope which lasts longer? It’s just crazy if you don’t want these things.”
I mean, other than skill development, you are only as good as your hearing ability when it comes to auscultation.
Don’t let such an easily improved factor limit you.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a little research that backs me up.
A 2014 study comparing doctors’ and nurses’ abilities to identify five common cardiac, breath and bowel sounds using three different models of stethoscope found clinicians had the most success when using the cardiology stethoscope.
What’s most surprising is that the cardiology stethoscope really distinguished itself in its ability to hear crackles, or abnormal breath sounds.
Since crackles can be the first sign of the storm, so to speak, you should at least try a cardiology model.
Moreover, since it is more durable, you actually may end up saving money over the course of your career.
Now, here’s the kicker.
No matter which model stethoscope you choose, auscultation is a skill which must be painstakingly developed and continually practiced throughout your entire career.
It was really heartbreaking for me to read a recent research from 2016 which found that most doctors do not improve their auscultation skills after the 3rd year of medical school.
Don’t be one of these clinicians. Ever.
Cardiology Stethoscope Reviews
The Bottom Line?
Barring intensive skills work, the best thing you can do to improve your auscultative ability is to invest in the best stethoscope you can get your hands on.
While a cardiology model has many features which enhance the listening experience, it may not be the best stethoscope for you.
While many of your colleagues may rave about an expensive, easily-recognized name brand of stethoscope, it also might not be the best choice for you.
An electronic stethoscope has other features that a cardiologist may need. Just realize the potentially substantial investment cost.
This post is long enough as it is, with over 1,500 words, if you want you can read about specific cardiology stethoscope reviews by clicking here.
Just keep in mind that, if you’re looking for durability and enhanced sound quality, the cardiology stethoscope may be a pretty good option for you.
Tags: cardiac stethoscope, cardiologist stethoscope, cardiology stethoscope
Categorised in: Stethoscope Articles