How to Use a Stethoscope at Home & What You Can Detect

Nurse Focus is primarily directed at qualified nurses. Still, I do get many questions from visitors interested in a career as a nurse or home health care provider.

This means I want to write more content for people with less experience. Today we will discuss the many uses and the best ways to use a stethoscope at home.

I have an article about buying a stethoscope.

Let’s now take a look at the basics of a stethoscope.

How Stethoscopes Works

The basic principle of a stethoscope has remained virtually unchanged since its inception more than 100 years ago.

There are digital Stethoscopes that can connect to your phone to record data. However, these still sell for less than traditional analog stethoscopes.

The diaphragm, or bell, is the part of the stethoscope that presses against the patient. This membrane is sealed and can pick up the sound being targeted.

These sound waves are transmitted from the patient to the air inside the stethoscope tube.

The long and narrow tube amplifies the sounds as they reach the ear tips of a stethoscope.

They are placed in the caregiver’s ear to detect the sounds.

Overall, the design is straightforward.

How to Use a Stethoscope at Home

The instrument’s design is simple, so it is straightforward to use a stethoscope. You don’t need much to be familiar with.

Let’s take another look.

How to Use a Stethoscope

The ear tips should be placed in the ear so minimal outside sounds. The information should be slightly in front of the nose.

How to Hold a Stethoscope

You should hold the bell or diaphragm between your index and middle fingers.

You can reduce noise interference by placing your thumb under the tube.

The tube can cause irritating sounds if it brushes against you or your patient.

What Size Should You Use: Diaphragm or Bell?

The diaphragm, located on the larger side of the listener piece, is used to detect heart rhythms and breathe.

The bell is located on the listening device’s smaller side and can detect irregular heart sounds or bruits. A bell can also detect bowel sounds (see below).

The bell and diaphragm are often used in a cardiac exam.

The listening device should be placed on the flesh or against any clothing touching the skin.

What is a Stethoscope Used For?

However, the only way to detect sounds is to analyze what you hear to provide a reliable and consistent prognosis.

However, this is a result of training. With experienced ears, you can measure and/or detect the following issues.

Measurement of Blood Pressure

I’ve already explained how stethoscopes and a sphygmomanometer can measure blood pressure. 

After inflating the cuff, the stethoscope can listen for audible heartbeats in your arm ( brachial artery).

The dial can determine the point at which the Korotkoff sounds first appear and disappear.

Listening to Your Heart

The stethoscope can detect irregularities in the heartbeat and heart “murmurs.”

It takes a trained ear to hear this, so it takes so much time to become a doctor or nurse.

However, less experienced stethoscope users can still find such issues with digital stethoscopes that can compare sound readings to a list of sounds.

A standard checkup of the heart includes listening to all four major areas in either case.

These are the following:

The pulmonic valve is located to the left of the sternum (second rib down).

Aortic Valve Right of the Sternum (2nd rib down).

Tricuspid Vave Left of the Sternum (4th rib down).

Mitral Valve In line with the left NippleNipple, (5th down)

Detecting Abnormal Blood Flow and Vascular Problems (Bruits).

You can place a stethoscope in areas where the arterial flow can easily be detected and heard to listen for Bruits.

These sounds are a result of forced and irregular blood flow. These sounds can be a sign of vascular problems like aneurysms or arteriosclerosis.

It is easy to understand the biology of bruits. Your arteries can be compared to rivers. When the street is too narrow or tight, the blood rushes through the veins under more significant pressure.

Areas where noises are often detected:

Carotid (neck)

Iliac (pelvis)

Femoral (thigh).

Abdominal aortic

Renal (kidney)

Temporal (forehead)

Identifying Abnormalities Within the Lungs

We have been to the doctor for a cold or the flu. They placed the cold stethoscope dial on our chests and backs.

In this instance, the stethoscope is used to diagnose any lung inflammation or blockages.

You might not be aware that, although a nurse or doctor can detect abnormalities, measurements of various parts of the chest and back are done to compare sounds in your lungs.

The Left and right lungs are divided into upper and lower parts. Comparisons can be made by performing a lung checkup using “paired areas,” the same spot on each side.

This makes it easier to determine if there are any abnormalities or issues.

Measurement of the Size and Function of the Liver

You can use a stethoscope, believe it or not, to determine the size of a patient’s liver.

Although it is not an exact science, a proper scan is always recommended. However, a simple test can help to detect any liver inflammation.

You must place the stethoscope under the right nipple and the index finger directly below the nipple line. Then, work your way up from the waist.

As the stethoscope moves upwards, the operator must gently touch the skin.

The rubbing sound of palpation sounds much duller when the finger is above the liver area.

You can estimate the length of your liver by marking the starting and ending points of the dull sound. The average size is around 10 cm.

Identify the Bowel Sounds

You can use the stethoscope to check for unusual bowel sounds. This can be used for diagnosing bowel obstructions and paralytic ileus.

Borborygmi sounds, i.e., the normal gurgling in the bowels, will often be present. This again shows that it takes a trained ear and a trained eye to spot issues.


Physical Exam of Neck” Chen G. and Zeng R. (2020). In: Wan XH. and Zeng R. (eds). Handbook of Clinical Diagnostics. Springer, Singapore.