Auscultation

Written by Rachel Nall | Published on August 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Peter Rudd, MD

What Is Auscultation?

Auscultation is the medical term for when your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to the sounds inside your body. During this simple test, the stethoscope acts as a doctor’s extra “ears,” allowing him or her to hear what is happening inside your body.

These areas include the following:

  • lungs
  • abdomen or bowel
  • heart or major blood vessels

Abnormal sounds in these areas might indicate problems. In your heart, it could mean an irregular heartbeat. In your digestive tract it could indicate Crohn’s disease. In your lungs, it could be a buildup of phlegm or abnormal fluid.

Doctors can also use as a machine known as a Doppler ultrasound for auscultation. This machine uses sound waves, which bounce off your internal organs, creating images. This test is frequently performed on pregnant women to listen to the heartbeat of their fetuses.

Auscultation poses no risks or side effects.

How Is the Test Performed?

A doctor will place the stethoscope over an area of unclothed skin and listen. He or she will listen to each area of your body a little differently.

To hear your heart, your doctor will listen to the four main regions, where the heart sounds of the heart valves are the loudest. Some heart sounds are best heard when you are turned toward your left side. Your doctor will place the stethoscope on the areas of your chest above and slightly below your left breast.

To listen to bowel sounds, your doctor will listen to one or more regions of your abdomen separately. He or she may hear swishing, gurgling, or nothing at all. Each sound gives your doctor an idea about what is happening in your intestines.

When listening to your lungs, your doctor will compare one side (right or left) with the other and compare the front of the chest with the back. Normal airflow sounds differently in airways that are blocked, narrowed, or filled with fluid.

How Are the Results Interpreted?

Auscultation can tell your doctor a lot about what’s going on inside your body. When listening to your heart, your doctor is listening for:

  • what the heart sounds like
  • how often each sound occurs
  • how loud the sound is

While the traditional heart sounds are something like a “lub-dub,” variations can help your doctor find areas that may not be getting enough blood or that have a leaky valve. If your doctor hears something unusual, he or she will probably order additional testing.

Your doctor should be able to hear abdominal sounds in all areas of your abdomen. If one area does not have sounds, this could indicate that digested material is stuck or your intestine is twisted—both of which may be very serious conditions.

Lung sounds can be as numerous as heart sounds. Wheezes can be either high- or low-pitched and can indicate that mucus in your lungs is preventing them from expanding properly. Rubs sound like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together and can indicate irritated surfaces around the lungs.

Auscultation is an easy and basic test that gives your doctor an idea about what is occurring in your body. Depending on the sounds heard, you might need additional tests to come to a diagnosis.

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