Abnormal Sounds: Basic Physical Exam Terminology

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  • 0:01 Physical Exam
  • 0:26 Abnormal Respiratory Sounds
  • 1:52 Other Abnormal Sounds
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

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.

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