Sunday, February 21, 2010

René Laënnec (1781-1826)

Frenchman René Laënnec has been known in the scientific and medical world for his invention of the stethoscope in 1816. Born in Quimper, France he studied medicine under the wing of his uncle Guillaime-François Laënnec at the University of Nantes. He later became the Head of Medicine at the Hopital de la Charite and a professor of medicine at the College de France before dying of Tuberculosis in 1826.

During this point of history the most common means for diagnosing heart conditions was to simply place one's ear over the patient's chest to listen for murmurs, vibrations, or deep rumblings that can indicate various heart and chest problems. Laënnec recognized that factors such as the patient's weight and even gender affected the results of the traditional process of chest percussion and listening. Excess fat between the outer chest and heart region made hearing the sounds within the chest cavity extremely to hear without amplification. In addition, placing one's head against the chest of a female patient was very awkward for both the patient and the doctor.

Laënnec's solution was a wooden tube with a small earpiece that when placed between the patient's chest and the doctor's ear the sound from the chest cavity was amplified considerably. This simple device inspired by a child's toy was very effective but met considerable resistance in the medical world due to how deeply engraved the traditional methods were in clinical practice. His design was improved in 1851 by Arthur Leared and George Camaann into the binaural stethoscope used in modern medical practices.

René Laënnec
His Stethoscope


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