The story of a Stethoscope

Doctor and a stethoscope are synonymous with each other. A stethoscope is doctor’s best buddy. Hung around one’s neck, it gives doctor his identity. It is basically an instrument used to listen sounds made by heart, lungs or intestines and blood flow in veins and arteries. Let’s read how a young doctor’s shyness led to its invention which proved to be path breaking in field of medical diagnosis.

Born in 1781, a young French doctor, Rene Laennec got inspired to become a doctor when his mother passed away due to tuberculosis. He was a learnt man who studied medicine under famous physicians Dupuytren and Joan Nicholas Corvisat.

Corvisat strongly believed in diagnosing a patient by listening to heart sounds. In those days (early 1800s), it was common for a doctor to listen one’s heart beat by pressing his head directly on patient’s chest or back.

In 1816, as a part of his training, Laennec was told to examine a young overweight woman who was having heart problem. Laennec felt shy as well as uncomfortable thinking about using the traditional method. At that moment, he thought of a way. He rolled a quire of paper into a cylinder and placed one end on the chest of the patient and other end to his ear. And much to his surprise, he perceived sounds better than the other traditional method.

Successful in his impromptu experiment, Laennec devised a wooden version. It was 25 cm by 2.5 cm and could be carried around. He named it STETHOSCOPE which was derieved from a greek word sthethos( meaning chest) and scopos (meaning examination). Gradually, its use spread across Europe and US. But unfortunately Laennec died in 1826 at the age of 45 due to the same disease, as of his mother, tuberculosis.

Till date, various refinements have been made to original one. The major changes were brought by a Harward Professor, David Littmann in 1960s. He made a lighter version with better acoustics.

Littmann stethoscope are no doubt, the gold standard and used worldwide by doctors. But Laennec’s invention proved to be major milestone in the history of medical sciences.


Many of us must be unaware about this but have a knowledge always pays of.

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