Abnormal Sounds: Basic Physical Exam Terminology

Jan 10, 2020 | Sound

We are going to discuss the different abnormal sounds that may be observed when doing a basic physical exam and what they may tell the doctor is going on in the body.

Physical Exam

So, you know you should get a physical exam every year. You haven’t gotten one up until this point because you aren’t sure what is going to happen during the exam, or what the results may be, and that makes you a little apprehensive about having one done.

One thing that can make you feel better is to become familiar with some of the results that may come from your physical exam. Of course, you are hoping to find out that everything looks and sounds fine, but that doesn’t always happen.

Abnormal Respiratory Sounds

There are some abnormalities that could come up during your exam. We are going to discuss some abnormal sounds that may be detected during your physical exam.

If you have fluid in your lungs, then it is likely that your doctor heard our first abnormal sound. Rale is an abnormal whistling, crackling, or slushing sound due to fluid in the lungs. Your doctor will hear this sound as you are inhaling and exhaling, since the fluid will move around with each breath you take. The way rale sounds will differ depending on the type of fluid present. Rale can indicate pneumonia or another possible infection in the lungs.

Another possible abnormal sound in the lungs is wheezing. Having asthma or allergies can cause the passageways for air in your lungs to become narrow and produce this high-pitched whistling sound when you breathe out.

A low-pitched, continuous whistling sound in the throat or bronchi is known as rhonchus. Some doctors describe rhonchus as sounding like snoring that can only be heard with the stethoscope. This sound is usually produced due to some type of blockage. The blockage may be anything from mucus to a solid object lodged in the bronchi.

A similar sound is stridor, which is a vibrating noise in the trachea or vocal cords. This can happen due to something blocking the passageway, an infection or an abnormality in the structure of the trachea or vocal cords.

Other Abnormal Sounds

All of those were for the lungs, but what about the other structures that your doctor listened to today? There are a couple of strange sounds for the abdomen and heart.

Bruit is a loud, turbulent sound of blood flow. This sound can be heard in either the heart or abdominal areas. Bruit is heard whenever the blood flow in the arteries are restricted due to an obstruction or something narrowing the passageway of blood through the arteries. Keep in mind that there are arteries all over our bodies, including our abdominal area. If the sound is heard in the abdominal area, then it is bruit.

Now if the same turbulent sound of blood flow is heard in or near the heart, then it is known as a heart murmur. It is not uncommon for you to experience a heart murmur every once in a while if you have a fever, are pregnant, growing quickly or exercising. In this case, the heart murmur is considered to be an innocent heart murmur, and there isn’t a real issue with your heart or blood vessels. However, an abnormal heart murmur could mean that you have endocarditis, a heart valve problem, hole in your heart, or rheumatic fever. Your doctor will have to do more tests to determine if the heart murmur is innocent or not.

Lesson Summary

I hope you are feeling a little more at ease now that you have some understanding of what happens during the assessment part of the physical exam.

The abnormal respiratory sounds that may show up during a physical exam are:

  • Rale – crackling, whistling or slushing sound due to fluid in the lungs
  • Wheezing – high-pitched whistling in the lungs or bronchi
  • Rhonchus – low-pitched, constant whistling sound in the throat or bronchi
  • Stridor – vibrating noise in the trachea or vocal cords

The other two abnormal sounds that may come up during a physical exam are bruit, which is loud, turbulent sound of blood flow in the abdominal area and heart murmur, which is the loud, turbulent sound of blood flow in or around the heart.

Key Terms

  • rale: crackling, whistling or slushing sound due to fluid in the lungs
  • wheezing: high-pitched whistling in the lungs or bronchi
  • rhonchus: low-pitched, constant whistling sound in the throat or bronchi
  • stridor: vibrating noise in the trachea or vocal cords
  • bruit: loud, turbulent sound of blood flow in the abdominal area
  • heart murmur: loud, turbulent sound of blood flow in or around the heart

 

 

Learning Outcome

Study the lesson so that, thereafter, you could list the different types of abnormal sounds that might occur throughout the body and understand what they could mean.

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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