10 Types of Stethoscopes: What’s the difference?

types of stethoscopes

 

The stethoscope is an icon of the medical practice, but are they all the same? And if not, whats the difference?

Whether you’re a student and brand new to the medical field, or a seasoned practitioner, your practice is largely dependent on the quality of  the equipment you use.

A stethoscope isn’t just any piece of equipment. It’s one that will stay with you through your entire medical career, and is your first port of call to approaching almost any medical situation.

A good stethoscope is the chance to perform one of the most basic tasks, auscultation, better and more efficiently.

The humble stethoscope has evolved into multiple forms used for particular types of patients or for particular types of tasks.

If you’re a healthcare practitioner chances are you don’t have the time to research individually which kind of stethoscope meets your needs.

It’s possible you already have a standard stethoscope from a well known brand. It’s common to hear,  “I just don’t have time to figure out what kinds of stethoscopes are available to me!”

We’ve done the work for you.

Here are some types of stethoscopes organized by patient group, size of chest piece, specialized patients or tasks, and even electronic and amplifying stethoscopes.

Let’s start with stethoscopes offering different sizes of chest piece and functionality for different types of patients.

10 Different Types of Stethoscopes and Their Uses

  1. Neonatal

A neonatal stethoscope is sized the smallest for newborn patients.

The smallest diameter of chest piece, some as small as as 2cm, allows for accurate auscultation without excess ambient noise.

Almost all versions feature a no chill ring and non latex construction.

Although it’s possible to use a regular size chest piece for small patients, it’s difficult to position the chest piece to listen to certain sounds that aren’t directly in the middle of the chest.

The smaller size makes diagnosis more accurate in a shorter period of time since you don’t have to continually adjust.

  1. Infant

The infant stethoscope is a lot like the pediatric and infant stethoscopes, but the diameter is in between the two.

Around 2.7cm, the chest piece gives accurate auscultation for smaller patients.

This stethoscope also features a no chill rim, and non-latex construction to avoid any allergic reactions.

  1. Pediatric

Pediatric stethoscopes look a lot like regular adult stethoscopes, but the main differences are in the size of chest piece and color.

For a pediatric patient, it still might be difficult to position the chest piece since the chest size of children is much smaller than an adult.

pediatric stethoscopeLike neonates and infants, using an adult stethoscope on a pediatric patient puts you at risk of ambient sound interference.

The pediatric stethoscope reduces the size of the chest piece allowing for more precise placement.

Many are also made of materials that are less likely to be cold, so that you have a better chance of keeping your patient still for diagnosis.

The other advantage is that of color. Although color my not seem like a big deal, when diagnosing a child who might be frightened or distracted, a stethoscope that resembles a toy might be just the thing to engage your tiny patient.

Next, we have different constructions for specific kinds of patients and diagnoses.

Sometimes it isn’t necessarily just the size of the patient, but the specific task that presents a challenge for traditional stethoscopes.

Luckily, since they’ve evolved along with medicine, stethoscopes can be specialized, too.

Read more about pediatric stethoscopes here….

  1. Fetal

The original fetal stethoscope, or fetoscope, was created in the 19th century and was basically an ear horn.

Called the Pinard Horn, it amplified the fetal heart beat into only one ear.

Fetal Stethoscope MotherToday, the binaural fetoscope, a modern combination of the stethoscope and the pinned horn, is much more common.

The main difference between a fetal stethoscope and other kinds is the construction.

With the fetal stethoscope, a special bell is placed against the mother’s belly to transmit sound to the ear pieces.

Another feature is the forehead piece that allows the practitioner to both position the bell and transmit sound.

The sound of the heartbeat from a fetoscope is faint, and very different than that of the fetal doppler, which uses amplification.

Some fetoscopes, particularly the Leff fetoscope, even isolate heart tones from placental pulses.

The bell is larger and provides sound quality that rivals the doppler.

Read more about fetal stethoscopes here….

  1. Cardiology

cardiology stethoscopeA cardiology stethoscope is another that looks similar to a regular stethoscope, but the difference is that the cardiology version gives you far greater acoustic quality, and with it the ability to hear high and low frequency sounds more clearly.

With these you can hear even faint sounds like clicks and rubs, making sure you don’t miss any subtle murmurs.

Not only the sound quality, but the ear pieces are thicker and more comfortable, blocking out ambient noise so that they don’t interfere with ascultation.  The tubing is thicker and tends to be shorter between the ear pieces and the diaphragm to maintain sound quality.

You can read more about cardiology stethoscopes here…

  1. Veterinary

Many vets use exactly the same stethoscope as doctors with human patients, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Animals have particular needs and challenges that aren’t applicable to humans.

Veterinary Stethoscope Dog, dog stethoscopeFor example, an animal’s fur makes a lot of noise that can interfere with auscultation.

The first design advantage is that most veterinary brands have long tubing, some up to 32 inches.

This allows you some distance from nervous or feral animals, or simply better comfort working with larger animals. And

Another feature is a tunable diaphragm.

This allows you to adjust with the flick of a switch making it easy to transition between high and low sounds.

When working with an animal patient, quick transitions can mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful diagnosis.

You might be wondering…

But what about the sound of fur against the diaphragm masking internal sounds?”

Here’s the best part…

Tunable diaphragms also mean increased amplification for low sounds that can be masked by fur, solving a huge problem in veterinary medicine.

Finally, though many stethoscopes are analog, using designs that amplify sounds naturally, there are another types of stethoscopes that makes use of modern technology to aid in auscultation.

 

  1. Electronic

Acoustic stethoscopes have a sound problem, specifically volume.

An electronic stethoscope solves this problem by electronically amplifying the sound obtained from the chest piece and converting it to electronic waves transmitted through specially designed circuitry.

electronic stethoscopeThe sounds are then processed for better listening.

Acoustic stethoscopes are based on the same physics, so the sound is the same across the board.

With electronic, there are different methods of converting the sound.

The most elementary use a microphone placed in the chest piece, but this gives off ambient noise interference.

Some use a piezoelectric crystal at the head of a metal shaft, or in the foam piece behind the diaphragm. Some use an electromagnetic diaphragm.

You should know that sounds from an electronic stethoscope take some getting used to if you’ve been using a traditional stethoscope.

Electronic Stethoscopes come in two categories: Digitizing and Amplifying.

 

  1. Amplifying

If you have any sort of hearing loss, using the stethoscope might fill you with dread. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

Amplified stethoscopes convert the acoustic sound of auscultation into electronic sound waves, which are then amplified and transmitted to the earpiece.

Because the sound is electronic, you can do all sorts of beneficial things to it, such as reduce noise interference.

It also allows you to wear headphones so the ear pieces don’t interfere with any hearing aids you might be wearing.

Other features include an electronic display for readings and ability to switch between the bell for low sounds and the diaphragm for high sounds.

 

  1. Digitizing

Electronic StethoscopeDigital stethoscopes offer the chance to switch between analog and digital amplification.

Switching modes allows you to pick the ideal setting for different types of diagnostic sounds.

Many let you analyze visually with a record feature, and some can connect those recordings wirelessly to a smart device or computer.

Most offer rechargeable batteries for ease of use and plenty of amplification levels to make the diagnosis process easier.

 

We’ve given you a brief overview on the types of stethoscopes.

If you’re wondering what the 10th one is (the title did promise 10 after all), that’s just your standard adult stethoscope! If you want to read more about our adult stethoscopes, you can find everything you need here.

No matter your specialty, type of patient, or personal needs, there’s a perfect stethoscope out there for you.


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