Stethoscopes are a very useful medical tool, but you might not be aware that there are different kinds of stethoscopes. Stethoscopes are all alike, so the naked eye cannot differentiate them. But there are mainly 14 types of stethoscopes with specific functionality and design.
After years of using stethoscopes in my work as a nurse, I have developed a list of the most common ones.
Below are the ten most common types of medical stethoscopes that you may encounter during your journey as a medical practitioner.
Types of Stethoscopes
Ambient noise is absent:
This type of stethoscope assists physicians in evaluating and diagnosing newborns. With its small diameter, this device allows precise auscultation free of any environmental noise interruptions. In addition, these types of stethoscopes feature a non-latex construction that eliminates allergic reactions, as well as a non-chill ring.
Moreover, due to the small size, it is easy to make precise diagnostics within a short period with no adjustments needed.
While this type of stethoscope looks like the pediatric Stethoscope and neonatal Stethoscope, it differs only by its diameter. With an infant, the chest piece measures approximately 2.6 cm, enabling accurate auscultation.
Non-latex material used:
This tool is best for infants since it is made of a non-latex material, preventing allergies. Using this device, medical professionals can diagnose and assess patients’ hearts and other vital organs.
Features single-head and double-head:
As the name implies, a cardiac stethoscope helps distinguish between different heart sounds for the most precise diagnosis. This type of stethoscope comes with both single head and double head chest pieces.
Clear acoustic sound quality:
The cardiology stethoscope looks like any other traditional stethoscope, but the only difference lies in its ability to deliver impeccable acoustic quality. Such a type of stethoscope allows doctors to hear high and low-frequency sounds from the diaphragm only.
Reduced ambient noise:
Along with its high-quality sound, this stethoscope features the reduction of ambient noise from the environment and restricts interference with auscultations with its thick quality earpieces.
Helps in evaluating and diagnosing illness:
Treatment of small patients requires the use of small-sized medical tools. The only differences between this type of stethoscope and the regular ones are the chest piece color and size. This tool helps assess and diagnose illnesses in children.
Small chest piece for the correct position:
In addition, the chest piece is small for the correct position, and it is available in a variety of colors that make it look as though it is a toy. The tool is a great way to calm kids who have a fear of going to the doctor.
A more enhanced listening experience:
The term electronic stethoscope also refers to digital stethoscopes. As a result, you receive more sound from the chest piece. Thus, it solves any problem related to sound. When sound waves are converted electronically, they become electric waves. A circuit transmits the sounds and ultimately processes them to improve listening.
There are two types of electronic stethoscopes: digitalizing and amplifying stethoscopes.
This kind of stethoscope enables better diagnosis in case of faint sounds since it amplifies respiratory and heart sounds. In addition, it allows you to choose between different cardiac or pulmonary sounds.
Increase sound waves reaching your ears:
An acoustic stethoscope works by channeling more sound waves toward your ears than would otherwise reach them. For example, the body sounds like a heartbeat or a stomach gurgling causing sound waves, which hit the metal chest piece of the stethoscope when you place it on a patient.
Sound with a louder acoustic:
Sound waves then pass through the rubber tube and strike the metal earpiece, hitting your ears. In addition, the tubing confines much more sound waves than would otherwise reach your ears, so the sound gets louder.
Because of this, you are listening to a patient’s heart using a stethoscope sound more loudly than putting your ear close to the patient’s chest.
During the nineteenth century, fetal stethoscopes were first invented. The device amplified the fatal heartbeat in only one ear. Binaural fetal stethoscopes are a modern combination of stethoscopes that are very common and famous today.
However, it is generally true that fetal stethoscopes differ from regular stethoscopes in their construction.
Adaptable forehead piece:
Fetal stethoscopes transmit sound to the ears by placing a bell against the mother’s belly. Also, the practitioner can adjust the forehead piece so that the device can be located simultaneously with the transmission of sound.
Excellent reduction in ambient noise:
Many veterinarians use the same stethoscope that doctors use for human patients, but this does not seem right. In addition, some specific needs and challenges apply only to animals. For example, a furred animal can create a lot of noise that interferes. Thanks to veterinary stethoscopes, which eliminate sound interference and have excellent ambient noise reduction.
Large tube length:
The main stethoscope feature is its tube length. If you have 32 inches, you can reach a large dog while they are on their backs.
An adjustable diaphragm is another feature of this stethoscope. With this, you can switch between high and low sounds simply by flicking a switch. Furthermore, tunable diaphragms increase the amplification of faint sounds usually hidden by fur, which is vital in veterinary medicine.
This stethoscope of single lumen tubing provides extreme durability. In addition to the dual headsets, the metal chest piece has a stainless steel framework. Teachers generally use them to teach.
Medical professionals gain valuable experience using this unique device when it comes to learning the proper use of the stethoscope and making accurate assessments.
Features two separate earsets:
The bell and diaphragm of a stethoscope connect to two separate ear sets. One set is worn by the mentor, and the other by the student/mentee. Together, both educators and students can use a stethoscope simultaneously.
When a mentor and mentee examine a patient simultaneously, the mentor can understand what they hear more clearly.
You can switch to different modes:
You can change the amplifying mechanism of a digital stethoscope from Analog to Digital. As well as this, you can set up a variety of diagnostic sounds by switching between modes. Many allow you to record visually for analysis, and some can connect those recordings wirelessly to a mobile computer.
They offer a wide range of amplification levels to make the diagnostic process more accessible, and most stethoscopes come with rechargeable batteries.
High acoustic sensitivity:
Mechanical stethoscopes have a very high acoustic sensitivity to cardiac and pulmonary pathologies, enabling the doctor to detect these conditions. Specific models are suitable both for children and adults.
Ability to change heads:
You can purchase models with interchangeable heads to cater to different patient types. In general, these instruments are potent and feature-rich.
During an operation, the use of this stethoscope allows monitors to check on an anesthetized patient. Through a small plastic adapter, the thin, flexible tube is attached to the stethoscope. The tubing is easy to insert and remove from the patient’s esophagus for internal monitoring. Monitoring airway sounds may allow doctors to detect obstructions, fluid, and distress immediately during an operation.
Embryologists and fetal specialists mostly use this type of stethoscope. A handheld ultrasound monitors the heartbeat and movement of the fetus.
The electronic device can accurately measure fetal heart activity due to its sensitivity to noise. Furthermore, other people (like parents-to-be) can hear the heartbeat as well.
Sprague Rappaport Stethoscope:
Features two removable heads:
This unique stethoscope is ideal for family practitioners who treat infants, children, and adults of all ages. For pediatric and adult care, it comes with dual removable heads.
They most often have two interchangeable diaphragms as well as several open bells. A good fit for patient size is crucial for minimizing sound interruption and ensuring correct detection.
- Lightweight Stethoscope:
This essential and comfortable stethoscope will fit the bill for many standard medical providers, as it is more durable and portable at an affordable price. Additionally, it is very lightweight of them all to be hung fairly comfortably around the provider’s neck.
Most still offer advanced diaphragm tuning and a double-sided diaphragm. The lightweight stethoscope is excellent for precise general use.
Which stethoscope is better- the single-headed or the dual-headed one?
You can influence the quality of your diagnosis or increase your comfort by paying attention to some minor details. Therefore, finding the right stethoscope for your needs is essential.
Adjustable diaphragm for low or high pitch:
The single-headed stethoscope does not allow you to alternate between listening to low and high-frequency sounds by simply turning over the head. A one-piece head equipped with a double-frequency diaphragm makes it possible to apply light pressure for low-frequency sounds and more force for high-frequency sounds.
Sound delivers perfectly:
Single-headed stethoscopes also reduce sound loss during auscultation, and their transmission of sound is perfect. That is why they are known for their best propagation of sound.
Suitable for blood pressure:
This head type is more suitable for blood pressure measurements because it fits more easily under the cuff due to its shape.
You can hear a variety of bodily sounds:
Dual-head stethoscopes provide you with the opportunity to listen to different kinds of sounds simultaneously. These include both those coming from the heart and lungs and those coming from the arteries and abdomen.
Placing the bell over the carotid artery allows the user to hear the sounds of stenosis. In addition, on the medium part of the abdomen, the bell detects systolic heart murmurs that might be significant for aortic aneurysms.
Diagnosis is possible in both adults and children:
Dual-head stethoscopes offer the additional benefit of being suitable for both adults and children. With the larger surface, it is possible to examine adults and heavy patients. The small surfaces of the devices allow for easy examination of children and young people, such as underweight.
It features a dual-frequency diaphragm:
Diaphragms on some models have two frequencies, one on the large head and one on the small head, designed to make auscultation easier for adults and children.
Therefore, it can be said that a double tubing stethoscope offers a higher quality sound than a single tubing one.
A triple-head stethoscope, the least common of the three stethoscope head choices, consists of three heads attached to a single chest piece. It makes sense that this design is a bit heavy and awkward for doctors to use, part of the reason it’s used for critical cardiac assessment only.
Therefore, most doctors, nurses, and medical professionals prefer a standard single or double head model.
Which type of stethoscope is appropriate for which doctor?
There is a stethoscope for every type of patient and disease a doctor treats, so that means each doctor has to choose one suited to their needs. Six different categories of practitioners typically require stethoscopes. Here are a few brief descriptions of these categories:
A general practitioner:
General doctors regularly use stethoscopes, and they use this tool mainly to check cardiac and pulmonary function in patients of all ages. The general practitioner examines children and adults equally, with a dual-head model (interchangeable).
Pediatricians treat only children, as opposed to general practitioners. Thus, the model used for a child will be different from the one used for an adult, mainly because of the head size.
Several pediatric stethoscopes come in different colors to reassure children during auscultation, and some even feature replaceable animal figures on the head to be adjusted accordingly. The majority of pediatric stethoscopes have just one head, but some have an anti-chill ring as well.
Heart and lung specialists:
These doctors use electronic stethoscopes to access high-quality audio and see cardiac and pulmonary sounds on a screen.
Although this type of stethoscope is more expensive, it enables the practitioner to listen to high and low pitches, making it easier to detect problems with the lung or heart. You can hear sounds up to 20 times louder than using a conventional stethoscope with an electronic stethoscope.
Best electronic stethoscope:
Electronic stethoscopes may be a good choice for persons working in noisy environments and who like gadgets. In this case, an electronic stethoscope such as the 3M Littmann Model 3200 is recommended.
Despite being more expensive than standard stethoscopes, it aids in heart and lung diagnosis by recording sounds, creating visual representations, and associating with other devices. Thus, it has importance in telemedicine as well.
Nurses use stethoscopes primarily to measure the blood pressure of their patients. ADC Adscope 618 Pediatric Stethoscope is the best stethoscope for pediatric nurses. In addition, the pediatric option offers an excellent distraction for young children with its snap-on animal faces and solid sound quality.
Physiotherapists use stethoscopes for pulmonary auscultation before and after a session. However, the auscultation is primarily pulmonary, so they usually use a single head stethoscope.
The Master Classic II is perfect for paramedics, physiotherapists, and nurses, among the best stethoscopes in the Littmann Classic range.
One-sided chest pieces reduce ambient noise and give easy access to parts of the body when assessing.
Veterinarians use stethoscopes like traditional mechanical stethoscopes, suitable for only a few kinds of animals to auscultate. However, practitioners consider Littmann Cardiology stethoscopes to be of the best acoustics available in stethoscopes.
It is possible to use the Cardiology III chest piece for both adults and children. This stethoscope can be helpful if you require care for both small and large animals. You can adjust the head’s pressure to hear high and low frequencies by adjusting the diaphragm tension.
What is so special about the Littman Stethoscope?
The features and technologies are innovative:
Littmann is the first choice of every healthcare professional when it comes to stethoscopes because of their unmatched quality. In addition to excellent quality, Littmann introduces many innovative features such as ambient noise reduction, tunable diaphragms, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Stethoscopes from these companies are the top choice among clinicians because of their high performance and elegant design.
Strong acoustic quality:
When using a good quality stethoscope, a student could easily pick up even the most delicate sounds that would often go unnoticed using a stethoscope of poor quality. Therefore, Littmann stethoscopes are four times louder than other stethoscopes, making them the best acoustic quality.
During clinical examinations, the tube bends easily. But flexible tubing makes Littmann Stethoscopes resistant to kinks and bends.
What to Look for When Choosing a Stethoscope
To purchase a stethoscope, one should consider several factors, such as its key features, usability, durability, and price. However, the following four essential criteria will assist you in your search:
Are your results filtered based on your specialty? For example, someone working in the neonatal intensive care unit will probably require a neonatal stethoscope.
As a veterinarian, you probably want a veterinary stethoscope for your practice. Gynecologists will undoubtedly need an ultrasound stethoscope with Doppler (along with a standard stethoscope). Taking this step will help you get going.
Type of Patients:
Once you have determined the specialty (including general practice), it is time to identify your patients. In balance with the patient’s size, the size of the stethoscope should be appropriate. Stethoscopes are also available in a range of sizes, including neonatal, pediatric, and adult.
Type of Stethoscope:
A dual-headed stethoscope or the adaptable and interchangeable Sprague Rappaport stethoscope is the perfect choice for professionals treating many patients. Simply replacing the bells or diaphragms of a stethoscope can save you from having to use multiple devices.
Comfort & Convenience:
Once you identify the type of stethoscope you require, compare options for comfort and convenience. When you wear a product throughout the day, providers prefer to offer you the lightweight option within their category. It would also help if you considered how long the tubing is.
It may be better for you to choose a tube that’s longer or shorter, depending on your needs. You should avoid wearing long tubes if you are wearing them for an extended period of time.
When dealing with very mobile patients (e.g., veterinarians, preschoolers, etc.), you may need larger tubing to accommodate awkward positioning and movement.
Are you in need of a more advanced stethoscope?
The electronic/digital stethoscope makes the recording of readings and assessments easier and makes monitoring easier. In some versions, results and trends can be recorded on your smartphone or computer using Bluetooth. Some providers can assist the hearing impaired.
Check the above categories and then read reviews to determine a stethoscope’s value according to your budget.
ADC, 3M Littmann, Heine, and MDF are well-known, durable, and recommended brands. It does not necessarily mean that a stethoscope is of inferior quality because it is cheaper. Maybe it just comes with more bells and whistles in the more expensive model.
There are many types and uses of stethoscopes available today, and although it may take a little time to get comfortable with them, the variety certainly beats the old wooden tubes. The advancement of technology has enabled healthcare providers to provide more individualized care for their patients.
Whether you’re a medical student or an anesthesiologist, you’ll find a stethoscope that meets the needs of you as well as your patients. Hopefully, this ultimate stethoscope guide will enable you to select the best model!
Lastly, the types listed above can help practitioners determine the most suitable tool for each specialty. This post aims to provide you with all the information you need about the different types of stethoscopes.