What Is Auscultation?
the medical term for using a stethoscope to listen to the sounds inside of your
body. This simple test poses no risks or side effects. During auscultation, the
stethoscope allows your doctor to hear what’s happening inside of your body.
Abnormal sounds in these areas may indicate problems:
Potential problems can include an irregular heartbeat in
your heart, Crohn’s disease in your digestive tract, and phlegm or fluid
buildup in your lungs.
Your doctor can also use as a machine called a Doppler ultrasound for
auscultation. This machine uses sound waves that bounce off your internal
organs to create images. This is also used to listen to your baby’s heartbeat
if you’re pregnant.
How Is the Test Performed?
Your doctor places the stethoscope over your bare skin and
listens to each area of your body. There are specific things your doctor will
listen for in each area.
To hear your heart, your doctor listens to the four main regions where heart
valve sounds are the loudest. Your doctor places the stethoscope on the areas
of your chest above and slightly below your left breast. Some heart sounds are also
best heard when you’re turned toward your left side. In your heart, your doctor
your heart sounds like
often each sound occurs
loud the sound is
Your doctor listens to one or more regions of your abdomen separately to listen
to your bowel sounds. They may hear swishing, gurgling, or nothing at all. Each
sound informs your doctor about what’s happening in your intestines.
When listening to your right and left lungs, your doctor
compares one side with the other and compares the front of your chest with the
back of your chest. Normal airflow sounds differently in airways that are
blocked, narrowed, or filled with fluid. They’ll also listen for abnormal
sounds such as wheezing.
How Are the Results Interpreted?
Auscultation can tell your doctor a lot about what’s going
on inside of your body.
Traditional heart sounds are rhythmic. Variations can signal
to your doctor that some areas may not be getting enough blood or have a leaky
valve. Your doctor may order additional testing if they hear something unusual.
Your doctor should be able to hear abdominal sounds in all
areas of your abdomen. Digested material may be stuck or your intestine may be
twisted if an area of your abdomen has no sounds. Both possibilities can be
Lung sounds can vary as much as heart sounds. Wheezes can be either high or low
pitched and can indicate that mucus is preventing your lungs from expanding
properly. One type of sound your doctor might listen for is called a rub. Rubs
sound like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together and can indicate
irritated surfaces around your lungs.
Palpation and Percussion
Other methods that you doctor can use to determine what’s
happening inside of your body are palpation and percussion.
Your doctor can perform a palpation simply by placing their fingers over one of
your arteries to measure systolic pressure. Doctors usually look for a point of
maximal impact (PMI) around your heart during palpation. If your doctor feels
something abnormal like a large PMI or thrill, which is a vibration caused by
the heart felt on the skin, they can identify possible issues related to your
Percussion involves your doctor tapping their fingers on various parts of your
abdomen. Your doctor uses percussion to listen for sounds based on the organs
or body parts underneath your skin. You’ll hear hollow sounds when your doctor
taps body parts filled with air and much duller sounds when your doctor taps
above an organ, such as your liver, or bodily fluids.
Percussion allows your doctor to identify many heart-related
issues based on the relative dullness of sounds. An enlarged heart, which is
called cardiomegaly, excessive fluid around the heart, which is called
pericardial effusion, and conditions such as emphysema can all be identified
Why Is Auscultation Important?
Auscultation gives your doctor a basic idea about what’s
occurring in your body. Your heart, lungs, and organs underneath your abdomen
can all be tested using auscultation and other similar methods. For example, if
your doctor doesn’t identify a fist-sized area of dullness left of your
sternum, you might be tested for emphysema. Also, if your doctor hears what’s
called an “opening snap” when listening to your heart, you might be tested for
mitral stenosis. You might need additional tests for a diagnosis depending on
the sounds your doctor hears.
Auscultation and related methods are a good way for your
doctor to know whether or not you need close medical attention. Auscultation
can be an excellent preventive measure to help stop certain conditions from
harming you. Ask your doctor to perform these procedures on you whenever you have
a physical exam.