What do you mean auscultation?

The ability of humans to hear sounds is more than just being able to listen to good music. Sounds serve as warning or signs of an impending danger which was very useful in the old times such as when hunting for animals to get food. In the modern world, sounds are more than music to the ears as even the smallest sound amplified into ASMR videos does bring pleasure to some groups of people. In the world of medicine, sounds do serve as part of health screening. Auscultation is important as part of a regular health screening.

What do you mean by auscultation? Auscultation is a method used by healthcare professionals to listen to the internal sounds of the body such as heart sounds, lung sounds and bowel sounds. It is performed by placing a stethoscope or a medical instrument used for listening to the internal sounds of the body, by laying it flat on the body at different locations that correspond to different organs in the body. Auscultation is performed in a quiet and private environment to get the best clear sound.

Auscultation is usually performed with a stethoscope as it is the easiest and most affordable instrument available in a healthcare facility. Auscultation is one of the most important skills for health professionals to have and is the oldest technique used by healthcare professionals for centuries. Auscultation itself is the safest way of diagnosing medical conditions as it is non-invasive. Auscultation is usually done during routine physical examinations. It helps to confirm or eliminate the many medical conditions.

Auscultation’s best friend is the stethoscope. Thanks to Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec, we now have a stethoscope. Stethoscope has two sides, a bell and a diaphragm. The diaphragm of the stethoscope is characterised by the larger flat side whereas the bell is the cone shaped side of the stethoscope. The diaphragm part is typically used to hear high-pitched sounds whereas the bell part is used to hear low pitched sounds. Examples of high-pitched sounds are sounds of the heart, lungs and abdomens whereas examples of low-pitched sounds are heart murmurs or extra heart sounds.

Method of auscultations depends on the site of auscultations. Auscultations may be portrayed as only for the heart, especially when you watch movies or dramas on TV or online but as mentioned, auscultations are also used to hear sounds from the lungs and bowels. As a matter of fact, you may see doctors do auscultations on the limbs such as hands or legs but this is not part of the typical routine physical examinations. Below are methods of auscultations according to the site of auscultations.

1)    Heart auscultation- Also known as cardiac auscultations, auscultation of the heart is done by patients sitting or lying down with 45 degrees angle. At times, patients may be asked to be turned into the left side or positioned in ways that makes the heart easier to hear. Stethoscope is placed on the chest and moved to four or five areas to hear the heart valves’ sounds. Beside the quality and quantity of the heartbeats, doctors may look for abnormal sounds that may be produced by the heart.

2)    Lung auscultations- Patients are asked to sit upright whenever possible. Patients take deep breaths through the mouth and a stethoscope will be placed on the chest. Stethoscope is usually moved on a different point on the chest, starting with the top of the lungs and moving downwards. It will also be done from side to side. The same step will be repeated on the back.  The sounds obtained will be compared between the front and back of the lungs, and between the right and left side. Normal and abnormal breath sounds are able to be heard clearly. Healthcare professionals will also look for lung sounds during inhalation and exhalation.

3)    Abdominal auscultations- Patients are usually asked to lie down on their back. Stethoscopes are placed over the abdomen and will be moved over different regions of the abdomen. Sounds of the abdomen are usually the sounds bowel made. Abdominal auscultations can give information of the normal and abnormal bowel function being less active or active than usual.

You may be surprised to see how quick or effortlessly a healthcare professional is able to do all of these auscultations in a matter of minutes and you may not even realise what they are doing is actually auscultations. However, if you are approached by a newly trained healthcare professional or still in training when visiting a healthcare facility, it would be kind of you if you can give extra time and space by being cooperative when they are performing physical examination on you.

In essence, auscultations are a safe and reliable procedure done as part of physical examinations. Using a stethoscope is enough to perform auscultation. Auscultations can give information about the organs affected. Patients typically need additional medical tests if healthcare professionals suspect problems that need further investigation. Do let your healthcare professional know if you are feeling uncomfortable during physical examinations because if you are feeling anxious or scared, it might affect the results.

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