Auscultation (based on the Latin verb auscultare "to listen") is listening to the internal sounds of the body, usually using a stethoscope. Auscultation is performed for the purposes of examining the circulatory and respiratory systems (heart and breath sounds), as well as the gastrointestinal system (bowel sounds).
The term was introduced by René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec. The act of listening to body sounds for diagnostic purposes has its origin further back in history, possibly as early as Ancient Egypt. Laënnec's contributions were refining the procedure, linking sounds with specific pathological changes in the chest, and inventing a suitable instrument (the stethoscope) in the process. Originally, there was a distinction between immediate auscultation (unaided) and mediate auscultation (using an instrument).
Auscultation is a skill that requires substantial clinical experience, a fine stethoscope and good listening skills. Health professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) listen to three main organs and organ systems during auscultation: the heart, the lungs, and the gastrointestinal system. When auscultating the heart, doctors listen for abnormal sounds, including heart murmurs, gallops, and other extra sounds coinciding with heartbeats. Heart rate is also noted. When listening to lungs, breath sounds such as wheezes, crepitations and crackles are identified. The gastrointestinal system is auscultated to note the presence of bowel sounds.
Electronic stethoscopes can be recording devices, and can provide noise reduction and signal enhancement. This is helpful for purposes of telemedicine (remote diagnosis) and teaching. This opened the field to computer-aided auscultation.
The sounds of auscultation can be depicted using symbols to produce an auscultogram. It is used in cardiology training.
Immediate auscultation is an antiquated medical term for listening (auscultation) to the internal sounds of the body, directly placing the ear on the body. It is opposed to mediate auscultation, using an instrument (mediate) i.e. a stethoscope.
Mediate auscultation is an antiquated medical term for listening (auscultation) to the internal sounds of the body using an instrument (mediate), usually a stethoscope. It is opposed to immediate auscultation, directly placing the ear on the body.
It is recently demonstrated that continuous Doppler enables the auscultation of valvular movements and blood flow sounds that are undetected during cardiac examination with a stethoscope in adults. The Doppler auscultation presented a sensitivity of 84% for the detection of aortic regurgitations while classic stethoscope auscultation presented a sensitivity of 58%. Moreover, Doppler auscultation was superior in the detection of impaired ventricular relaxation. Since the physics of Doppler auscultation and classic auscultation are different, it has been suggested that both methods could complement each other.