Known as the father of clinical auscultation, René Laennec is considered to be one of the greatest doctors of all times. The introduction of auscultation—a new method to diagnose diseases was his biggest contribution to medical science. This method involves listening and identifying various sounds made by different body organs. Before the invention of this method, Laennec’s diagnostic method involved placing his ear on the chest of his patients. This method made him quite uncomfortable especially while he was diagnosing young women and hence this led to the innovation of a new device called stethoscope which he initially termed as “chest examiner”. With his new chest examiner, he was able to study the different sounds of the heart thus categorizing them as either healthy or unhealthy. Though criticized initially, his works were way ahead of his times and had a great impact on medical science.
René Hyacinthe Laennec was born on 17th of February at Quimper, located to the North-west of France. When he was six, he lost his mother following which he had to live with his grand-uncle Abbe Laennec, who was a priest. He then moved with his uncle Guillaime Fracois Laennec who worked as a faculty of medicine at the ‘University of Nantes’. René Laennec became fluent in English and German and won many academic prizes. Influenced by his uncle, he started studying medicine at a young age. His father was a lawyer and a poet who later discouraged him from practicing medicine. Feeling dejected, Laennec took a break and studied Greek and wrote poetry. He returned to his studies by 1799 wherein he had the privilege of studying under some of the most famous physicians like Dupuytren who was a French anatomist and a military surgeon and Nicolas Corvisart des Marset who was an expert in cardiology. At the age of 19, Laennec went to Paris and entered the ‘École Pratique’ where he studied dissection in Guillaume Dupuytren’s laboratory. As a child, he often suffered from asthma and pyrexia.
Life And Medical Career
At ‘Ecole Pratique’ Laennec was introduced to ‘comparison of anatomical studies’ by Dupuytren. It was here, that Laennec received his first prize for medicine and surgery. In June 1802, while he was still a student, he published his first paper. In fact, while he was a student, he published several papers on topics such as peritonitis, amenorrhea and liver diseases. He also worked as an editor for ‘Journal de Medecine’, a journal dedicated to research in medical science. In 1804, Laennec graduated in medicine. In the same year, he also became an associate at the ‘Société de l’École de Médecine’ and soon started to give private instructions on morbid anatomy. He also found that tubercle lesions could be present in all organs of the body and not just lungs. He also went on to become the editor of ‘Journal de Medecine’.
Later in 1808, Laennec founded the Athenee Medical which later merged with Societe Academique de Paris. He was also appointed as a personal physician to Cardinal Joseph Fesch. During this period, Laennec wrote many articles on pathological anatomy. By 1816, he was offered the position of a physician at the Necker Hospital in Paris which he whole heartedly accepted. Later, in 1822, he was appointed as the professor of medicine at the College of France and in January 1823. In August 1824, he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Contributions To Medical Science
Auscultation is the method of listening to internal sounds of the body. This method is basically of two types—immediate and mediate. Immediate Auscultation involved listening to the heartbeats by pressing the ear against the patient’s chest. This was hardly any way to examine a patient and most female patients were uncomfortable with such methods. Laennec’s invention of the stethoscope in 1816 brought about a remarkable change in the field of medicine. This led to mediate auscultation and also paved way for the study of a number of heart diseases.
Laennec coined the word ‘cirrhosis’ which he derived from the Greek word Kirrhos, meaning yellowish-brown which referred to the color of the nodular shaped scars appearing on the liver. Thus, this disease came to be known as Laennec’s Cirrhosis.
Laennec was the first person to give a lecture on Melanoma, a tumor associated with skin cancer in 1804. He used the term melanose to describe these tumors. However, this led to a cold war between Dupuytren and Laennec, as Laennec’s publication on Melanoma did not give enough credit to Dupuytren’s work in this area.
Laennec studied tuberculosis which is an infectious disease characterized by the growth of tubercles in the lungs caused mainly by bacteria. While studying the post-mortem reports of the tuberculosis infected patients, he observed that their chests were filled with pus and cavity. With the help of his stethoscope, he could recognize the different lung diseases like pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchiectasis etc. However, later in 1826, Laennec, himself was diagnosed by tuberculosis which caused his death.
Later Phases & Death
Laennec was not only known for his contributions in medical science but also for his charity works. He was very sympathetic towards the economically deprived class of people. He was highly respected for his kind deeds and was loved by all his students. He got married in 1824 to Ms. Argon. He passed away due to tuberculosis two years later. Most of the medical terms that he coined and the methods that he invented are used even to this day. Although, he died at a young age of 45, he was able to create a niche for himself in the field of medicine.
Though, Laennec died at a very young age, his work continues to inspire medical practitioners even to this day. Laennec’s thrombus is an antenatal thrombus or prenatal blood clot in the heart and Laennec’s pearls is referred to as the mucus produced by patients suffering from asthma. There is also the Laennec- Hammam symptom which refers to a crunching sound of the heart which can be heard over the precordium. There is also a medical school named after Laennec at the University ‘Claude Bernard Lyon I’.