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How to Use a Stethoscope to Hear Your Heartbeat

Updated on February 11, 2017
Geoff Simmons profile image

My name is Geoff, and I'm a medical student, originally from Miami. I enjoy writing about some of the topics I'm learning in school.

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Stethoscopes are important tools for finding out what’s going on inside the human body. The average human heart beats over 115,000 times per day!

Listening to your heartbeat can tell you about your overall well-being and potentially identify issues. Follow these steps if you want to learn how to listen to your own heartbeat using a stethoscope.

First, find a quiet environment. This is especially key if you’re not used to using a stethoscope. Loud environments create noise pollution, which interferes with your ability to hear what’s going on in your body.

Having a high-quality stethoscope reduces the need to find a quiet area. The better you stethoscope is, the easier it is to listen despite the outside noises. You can visit this resource for more information on picking a stethoscope: http://dmelibrary.com/best-stethoscope-for-medical-students/

Once you’ve found a quiet place, sit upright or in a semi-reclined position. This is the best and most comfortable position to listen to your heartbeat.

Now you can place the diaphragm of your stethoscope against your chest, directly on your skin. Trying to listen to your heartbeat over clothes will create scratching and hissing noises that will interrupt your diagnosis.

What are you looking for when listening to your heartbeat?

The main thing to keep an eye out for is any irregularities in the heartbeat. You should count how many times your heart beats per minute.

Keep any eye out for any extra or unusual sounds in the heartbeat. Generally, irregularities in heartbeats are described as whooshes, gallops, plops or clicks. If you notice any of these things, a physician should evaluate you as soon as possible.

With your stethoscope on your chest, you should now be able to clearly hear your heartbeat. Depending on your stethoscope, you can press on the diaphragm to hear low-frequency sounds or release pressure for high-frequency sounds.

If the person you’re listening to has a heart murmur, then you’ll have to focus on identifying low-frequency noises.

When listening to heartbeats, there are five assessment areas you should examine. It’s recommended to listen to each area for about fifteen seconds.

Five assessment areas to examine:

  • Aortic Area – To the right of your sternum, half an inch above your nipple line
  • Erb’s Point – About an inch directly beneath your nipple line
  • Apex/Mitral area – Draw an imaginary line from the center of your left collarbone, going straight down
  • Tricuspid area – An inch below Erb’s point
  • Pulmonic area – Left of your sternum, about half an inch above your nipple line

Potential problems to listen for:

  • Irregular rhythm – Hear an extra beat or your heart skipping a beat can be a sign of a problem. Your heart should beat with a consistent rhythm
  • Heart murmurs – Heart murmurs display themselves with a whooshing noise. Heart murmurs can sometimes signify blood flow problems in your heart, which should be checked out by a healthcare professional.
  • Congestive heart failure – Sings of congestive heart failure are found by listening for irregularities in the heart and lungs. Sometimes fluid in the lungs can cause heart problems. More info on heart disease - http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/heart-disease/

How to calculate heart rate?

  • Listen and count how many times the heartbeats in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to get your beats per minute (bpm).

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