René Laennec

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René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec[1] (February 17, 1781 – August 13, 1826) was a French physician. He invented the stethoscope in 1816, while working at the Hôpital Necker and pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions.

He became a lecturer at the Collège de France in 1822 and professor of medicine in 1823. His final appointments were that of Head of the Medical Clinic at the Hôpital de la Charité and Professor at the Collège de France. He died of tuberculosis in 1826.


Early life and personality

Laennec was born in Quimper (Brittany). His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five or six, and he went to live with his grand-uncle the Abbé Laennec (a priest). At the age of twelve he proceeded to Nantes where his uncle, Guillaime-François Laennec, worked in the faculty of medicine at the university. Laennec was a gifted student, he learned English and German, and began his medical studies under his uncle's direction.

His father (a lawyer) later discouraged him from continuing as a doctor and René then had a period of time where he took long walks in the country, danced, studied Greek and wrote poetry. However, in 1799 he returned to study. Laennec studied medicine in Paris under several famous physicians, including Dupuytren and Nicolas Corvisart des Marest. There he was trained to use sound as a diagnostic aid. Corvisart advocated the re-introduction of percussion, a neglected diagnostic technique based on sound developed by Leopold Auenbrugger in 1761

René Laennec was a practicing surgeon in Nantes during the French Revolution. Laennec was a devout Catholic. He was noted as a very kind man and his charity to the poor became proverbial.[2]

The invention of the stethoscope

Laennec wrote the classic treatise De l'Auscultation Médiate, published in August 1819.[3] The preface reads:

In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [direct auscultation] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, . . . the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other. Immediately, on this suggestion, I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one end of it to the region of the heart and the other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct than I had ever been able to do by the immediate application of my ear.

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