(19)
(11)EP 3 565 476 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
29.04.2020 Bulletin 2020/18

(21)Application number: 18701102.8

(22)Date of filing:  04.01.2018
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
A61B 7/00(2006.01)
A61B 5/05(2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/EP2018/050157
(87)International publication number:
WO 2018/127524 (12.07.2018 Gazette  2018/28)

(54)

A STETHOSCOPE APPARATUS AND A METHOD OF PROCESSING BREATHING SOUNDS PRODUCED BY A SUBJECT

SYSTEM UND VERFAHREN ZUR DYNAMISCHEN FOKUSSIERUNG AUF DAS HERZ- UND/ODER DIE LUNGE MITTELS FREQUENZABSTIMMUNG UND ANALYSE VON IMPEDANZPHASEN- UND/ODER GRÖSSENVARIATIONEN

SYSTÈME ET PROCÉDÉ DE FOCALISATION DYNAMIQUE SUR LE COEUR ET/OU LES POUMONS PAR ACCORD DE FRÉQUENCE ET ANALYSE DE PHASE D'IMPÉDANCE ET/OU VARIATIONS DE MAGNITUDE


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 09.01.2017 EP 17150641

(43)Date of publication of application:
13.11.2019 Bulletin 2019/46

(73)Proprietor: Koninklijke Philips N.V.
5656 AG Eindhoven (NL)

(72)Inventors:
  • LEIJSSEN, Jacobus, Josephus
    5656 AE Eindhoven (NL)
  • DOODEMAN, Gerardus Johannes Nicolaas
    5656 AE Eindhoven (NL)
  • BEZEMER, Rick
    5656 AE Eindhoven (NL)

(74)Representative: Veligura, Alina Viktorivna 
Philips International B.V. Intellectual Property & Standards High Tech Campus 5
5656 AE Eindhoven
5656 AE Eindhoven (NL)


(56)References cited: : 
KR-A- 20090 070 294
US-A1- 2016 143 557
US-A- 5 812 678
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION



    [0001] The invention relates to an improved stethoscope apparatus that is for use in measuring the sounds of breathing by a subject.

    BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION



    [0002] The stethoscope is one of the most commonly used medical instruments, and is often used by a doctor to listen to heart sounds and the sounds produced by the breathing of a subject. The stethoscope typically comprises a small receiver (e.g. a bell or diaphragm) that is placed against the subject's body and hollow tubes that transmit the sound detected by the receiver to the ears of the user.

    [0003] Electronic stethoscopes are available that use a microphone to record the sounds inside the body, with the sounds being output to the user via a speaker.

    [0004] US 2016/0143557 A1 discloses a smartphone incorporating various type of sensors, such as accelerometers, cameras and microphones. Data recorded by one or more of these other sensors simultaneously with obtaining the RF signal can be correlated with the RF signal to enhance the accuracy of the output physiological characteristic values.

    [0005] Typically, when using a stethoscope a subject is required to breathe as deeply as possible to ensure that the breathing sounds are audible to a user of the stethoscope. However, some subjects may not be able to take sufficiently deep breaths, particularly those subjects that are unwell with a condition that affects their breathing.

    [0006] There is therefore a need for an improved stethoscope apparatus and method of processing breathing sounds that addresses this problem.

    SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



    [0007] According to a first aspect, there is provided a stethoscope apparatus, the stethoscope apparatus comprising a sound sensor for measuring sounds produced by the breathing of a subject and for outputting a sound signal representing the measured breathing sounds; a transmitting antenna for emitting an electromagnetic signal into the body; an antenna for receiving a modulated electromagnetic signal in response to the electromagentic signal from the body, wherein the modulated electromagnetic signal is modulated by movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body; a processing unit that is configured to receive the sound signal from the sound sensor and the modulated electromagnetic signal from the antenna; and normalise the sound signal using the modulated electromagnetic signal. Normalising the sound signal makes anomalies more audible compared with just a standard audio stethoscope.

    [0008] In some embodiments, the processing unit is configured to normalise the sound signal by dividing the amplitude of the measured sounds in the received sound signal by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal.

    [0009] In some embodiments, the received sound signal comprises measurements of the amplitude of the sound at a plurality of sampling times, and the processing unit is configured to normalise the sound signal by dividing the amplitude of the measured sound at a particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at said particular sampling time.

    [0010] In some embodiments, the processing unit is configured to normalise the sound signal by analysing the modulated electromagnetic signal to estimate the volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath; and normalising the sound signal using the estimated volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath.

    [0011] In some embodiments, the stethoscope apparatus further comprises a speaker for outputting the normalised sound signal to a user of the stethoscope apparatus.

    [0012] In alternative embodiments, the transmitting antenna used for emitting the electromagnetic signal into the body is the same antenna, which is used for receiving the modulated electromagnetic signal.

    [0013] According to a second aspect, there is provided a method of processing breathing sounds produced by a subject, the method comprising emitting an excitation electromagnetic signal into a body of the subject; measuring sounds produced by the breathing of a subject using a sound sensor and outputting a sound signal representing the measured breathing sounds; receiving a modulated electromagnetic signal from the body using an antenna, the modulated electromagnetic signal is modulated by movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body; and normalising the sound signal using the modulated electromagnetic signal. Normalising the sound signal makes anomalies more audible compared with just a standard audio stethoscope.

    [0014] In some embodiments, the step of normalising the sound signal comprises dividing the amplitude of the measured sounds in the received sound signal by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal.

    [0015] In some embodiments, the received sound signal comprises measurements of the amplitude of the sound at a plurality of sampling times, and the step of normalising the sound signal comprises dividing the amplitude of the measured sound at a particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at said particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at said particular sampling time.

    [0016] In some embodiments, the step of normalising the sound signal comprises analysing the modulated electromagnetic signal to estimate the volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath; and normalising the sound signal using the estimated volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath.
    In some embodiments, the method further comprises outputting the normalised sound signal using a speaker.

    [0017] In some embodiments, emitting of the electromagnetic signal into the body is performed using the antenna, which is also used for receiving the modulated electromagnetic signal.. In alternative embodiments, emitting of the electromagnetic signal into the body is performed using a second (transmitting) antenna.

    [0018] According to a third aspect, there is provided a computer program product comprising a computer readable medium having computer readable code embodied therein, the computer readable code being configured such that, on execution by a suitable computer or processor, the computer or processor is caused to perform any of the methods described above.

    [0019] Thus, the normalisation according to the invention provides that audible breathing sounds can be obtained for a subject, regardless of the depth with which the subject is breathing or is able to breathe.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0020] Exemplary embodiments of the invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the following drawings, in which:

    Figure 1 is a block diagram of an apparatus according to an embodiment;

    Figure 2 is a block diagram of an apparatus in use on a subject;

    Figure 3 is a diagram of an antenna according to an exemplary embodiment;

    Figure 4 is block diagram of control circuitry for obtaining an electromagnetic signal from an antenna;

    Figure 5 is a flow chart illustrating a method of processing breathing sounds produced by a subject;

    Figure 6 is an exemplary sound signal;

    Figure 7 is an exemplary breathing signal obtained using an antenna; and

    Figure 8 shows the result of normalising a sound signal using the electromagnetic signal according to an embodiment.


    DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS



    [0021] As noted above, when using a conventional acoustic stethoscope a subject is required to breathe as deeply as possible to ensure that the breathing sounds are audible to a user of the stethoscope (i.e. a physician or other healthcare provider). However, this can be difficult for some subjects since they may not be able to take sufficiently deep breaths and therefore it may be difficult for certain breathing sounds to be audible to the user of the stethoscope. Thus, the invention provides that information contained in an electromagnetic signal that is modulated by air, fluid and/or tissue movements in the body of the subject (and specifically breathing movements) can be used to normalise the sound of the subject's breathing. In particular, the modulations in the electromagnetic signal are related to the depth with which the subject is breathing, and thus this information is used to normalise the sound of the subject's breathing for the depth of the breathing.

    [0022] An embodiment of a stethoscope apparatus 1 according to the invention is shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows the stethoscope apparatus 1 of Figure 1 in use on a subject. The stethoscope apparatus 1 comprises a sound sensor 2 that is for measuring the sound of the breathing of a subject. The sound sensor 2 can comprise a microphone, multiple microphones, or any other type of sensor, for example an accelerometer, that can measure the sound of a subject breathing. The sound sensor 2 outputs a signal representing the measured sound. The sound signal can be an analog signal or a digital signal (i.e. comprising a measurement of the amplitude of the sound at each of a plurality of sampling instants). In the case of a digital signal, the sampling frequency of the sound sensor 2 can have any desired value. For example the sampling frequency can be 1 kiloHertz (kHz), or if oversampling is used to obtain additional data, the sampling frequency can be 22 kHz, 44.1kHz (which is a standard audio sampling rate) or even higher.

    [0023] The sound sensor 2 is connected to a processing unit 4 in the stethoscope apparatus 1, and the sound signal is provided to the processing unit 4.

    [0024] The processing unit 4 generally controls the operation of the stethoscope apparatus 1, for example controlling the initiation of the recording of the sound signal by the sound sensor 2, and/or other functions and operations of the stethoscope apparatus 1, such as the processing of the sound signal according to the invention. The processing unit 4 can be implemented in numerous ways, with software and/or hardware, to perform the various functions required. The processing unit 4 may comprise one or more microprocessors that may be programmed using software to perform the required functions. The processing unit 4 may be implemented as a combination of dedicated hardware to perform some functions and a processor (e.g., one or more programmed microprocessors and associated circuitry) to perform other functions. Examples of processing components that may be employed in various embodiments of the present disclosure include, but are not limited to, conventional microprocessors, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

    [0025] In various implementations, the processing unit 4 may be associated with one or more storage media, shown as memory unit 6 in Figure 1. The memory unit 6 can be part of the processing unit 4, or it can be a separate component in the stethoscope apparatus 1 that is connected to the processing unit 4 (as shown in Figure 1). The memory unit 6 can comprise any suitable or desired type of volatile or non-volatile computer memory such as RAM, PROM, EPROM, and EEPROM. The memory unit 6 can be used for storing computer program code that can be executed by the processing unit 4 to perform the method described herein. The memory unit 6 can also be used to store sound signals or measurements from the sound sensor 2 and/or any other sensors in the stethoscope apparatus 1, and/or information derived from the sound signals or other sensor measurements determined by the processing unit 4.

    [0026] The stethoscope apparatus 1 also comprises an antenna 8 that is used to receive an electromagnetic signal from the body of the subject that has been modulated by movements of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body (e.g. caused by breathing and the beating of the heart). It will be appreciated that movements of tissue in the body can comprise changes in volume of the tissue. These modulations cause amplitude and/or phase modulations of the electromagnetic signal. The electromagnetic signal received by the antenna 8 is referred to herein as the modulated electromagnetic signal.

    [0027] The modulated electromagnetic signal is emitted by the body in response to an excitation electromagnetic signal that is emitted into the body of the subject. The excitation electromagnetic signal causes magnetic induction, i.e. the generation of eddy currents in the tissue due to the application of an external magnetic field, and this eddy current/electromagnetic signal is modulated by the movements of air, fluid and/or tissue in the subject.

    [0028] The excitation electromagnetic signal can be emitted either by the antenna 8 or by a separate transmitting antenna. This excitation electromagnetic signal can be emitted in response to an excitation signal provided from the processing unit 4 or from separate excitation circuitry (not shown in Figure 1) that is controlled by the processing unit 4. In other words the antenna 8 can be also the transmitting antenna by performing both functions: emitting the electromagnetic signal into the body and receiving the modulated electromagnetic signal from the body in response to the excitation signal.

    [0029] The emitted excitation electromagnetic signal (and thus the received modulated electromagnetic signal) can be a radio frequency (RF) signal, for example with a frequency of the order of hundreds of megahertz (MHz), for example a frequency in the range of 100 MHz to 1000 MHz. In a specific example, the antenna 8 can be configured to receive an electromagnetic signal with a frequency of 450 MHz.

    [0030] Magnetic fields penetrate deeper into a body than electrical fields, and thus magnetic fields can be used to measure changes in properties deeper inside the body, whereas electrical fields can be used to measure changes in properties on the surface of the skin, e.g. the permittivity of the skin. Thus, the antenna 8 is preferably configured such that it is a magnetic antenna, i.e. such that the magnetic field behaviour of the emitted electromagnetic signal dominates over the electric field behaviour.

    [0031] Preferably the antenna 8 is small compared to the wavelength of the electromagnetic signal that the antenna 8 is to measure for the loop to be considered as a magnetic antenna. In some embodiments, the diameter of a loop antenna can be considered to be small if it is less than 10% of the wavelength of the electromagnetic signal.

    [0032] In some embodiments, which are described in more detail below with reference to Figure 3, the antenna 8 comprises a loop antenna. In some of these embodiments, the loop antenna is shielded with a Faraday shield to lower the electrical field (the near field). In alternative embodiments, the antenna 8 is a coil antenna.

    [0033] In some embodiments, all of the components of the stethoscope apparatus 1 are part of the same device, e.g. the sound sensor 2, processing unit 4 and antenna 8 are in a single housing. In other embodiments the sound sensor 2 and/or antenna 8 are in a separate device or housing to the processing unit 4. Where the sound sensor 2 and/or antenna 8 are provided in a separate device or housing to the processing unit 4, appropriate circuitry or components can be provided to enable the sound signal and/or received modulated electromagnetic signal to be sent (e.g. transmitted) to the processing unit 4. In these cases the processing unit 4 can be part of a personal electronic device such as a smartphone, tablet computer, laptop computer or desktop computer, or part of another electronic device, such as a base unit or hub unit for the sound sensor 2 and/or antenna 8, or a remote server (e.g. located in the cloud, i.e. accessible via the Internet), in which case the measurements from the sound sensor 2 and/or antenna 8 can be sent wirelessly to the processing unit 4 in the electronic device using any suitable communication protocol (e.g. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a cellular telecommunication protocol).

    [0034] In some embodiments the processing unit 4 can receive the sound signal from the sound sensor 2 and modulated electromagnetic signal from the antenna 8 in real-time or near real-time (e.g. with the only delay being due to the signal processing required to transmit or convey the measurements to the processing unit 4). In other embodiments (including embodiments where the sound sensor 2 and/or antenna 8 are separate from the processing unit 4, the sound signal and modulated electromagnetic signal can be stored in memory unit 6 and the processing unit 4 can retrieve a previously-obtained sound signal from the memory unit 6 when a sound signal is to be analysed or processed.

    [0035] As noted above, in some embodiments the processing unit 6 may be part of a smartphone or other general purpose computing device that can be connected to or otherwise receive a sound signal from a sound sensor 2 and/or modulated electromagnetic signal from the antenna 8, but in other embodiments the stethoscope apparatus 1 can be an apparatus that is dedicated to the purpose of obtaining and processing a sound signal.

    [0036] It will be appreciated that Figure 1 only shows the components required to illustrate various embodiments of the stethoscope apparatus 1, and in a practical implementation the stethoscope apparatus 1 may comprise additional components to those shown. For example, the stethoscope apparatus 1 may comprise a battery or other power supply for powering the stethoscope apparatus 1, a communication module for enabling the processed sound signal to be communicated to another device, e.g. a base unit for the stethoscope apparatus 1 or a remote computer, and/or one or more user interface components. As an example, the one or more user interface components could comprise a switch, a button or other control means for activating and deactivating the stethoscope apparatus 1 and/or sound signal processing. The user interface components can also or alternatively comprise a speaker for outputting the processed sound signal and/or a display or other visual indicator for displaying a graphical representation of the processed sound signal.

    [0037] Figure 2 shows the stethoscope apparatus 1 of Figure 1 in use on a subject 10. In particular, the sound sensor 2 and antenna 8 are placed on the chest or back of the subject 10, in the vicinity of the lungs 12 of the subject 10. The sound sensor 2 can therefore measure the sound of the breathing by the subject 10 (and also the sound of the heart beating), and the antenna 8 can receive an electromagnetic signal that has been modulated by the movement of the lungs (breathing) and/or heart (heart beats).

    [0038] It will be appreciated that in some embodiments the sound sensor 2 and antenna 8 can be in the same unit and therefore may be in the same location on the body of the subject 10.

    [0039] Figure 3 shows an exemplary antenna 8 according to an embodiment. The antenna 8 comprises a radiating element in the form of a wire loop 20 that is shielded across its length by a first shielding component 22, except at an opening 24 where the wire loop 20 is exposed and at a part 26 that is located inside a second shielding component 28. This opening 24 is required to prevent shorting of the antenna 8.

    [0040] The second shielding component 28 covers the part 26 of the wire loop 20, and can be made of metal to act as a Faraday shield.

    [0041] A capacitor 30 is connected to the part 26 of the wire loop 20 that is located inside the second shielding component 28. The capacitor 30 is provided for tuning the antenna 8.

    [0042] A cable 32 is connected at one end to the wire loop 20 inside the second shielding component 28 and allows any signal received by the wire loop 20 to be output to the processing unit 4. Where the antenna 8 is also used to emit the excitation electromagnetic signal, the cable 32 can be used to provide the excitation signal from the processing unit 4 to the wire loop 20.

    [0043] In some embodiments, the antenna 8 can also include an electrostatic discharge (ESD) shield to lower the electrical field residue. This ESD shield could be formed from a metallic non-conducting foil.

    [0044] In practical embodiments, the wire loop 20 and first shielding component 22 can be a coaxial cable that is formed into a circular shape, with the inner conductor of the coaxial cable acting as the wire loop 20 and the outer part of the coaxial cable acting as the shield (Faraday shield). In alternative embodiments, the antenna 8 can be formed using two layers of PCB (printed circuit board) material that act as a Faraday shield.

    [0045] As noted above the diameter of the antenna 8 is preferably small compared to the wavelength of the electromagnetic signal (in air) that the antenna 8 is to measure. Thus, for an antenna 8 that is to receive signals at 450 MHz (with a wavelength of 0.66 metres (m)), the wire loop 20 can have a diameter of 15 millimetres (mm). In another example, for an antenna 8 that is to receive signals at 118 MHz, the wire loop 20 can have a diameter of 45 mm.

    [0046] It has been found that with the antenna 8 of Figure 3, at higher frequencies, e.g. around 1000MHz, changes in phase of the received signal dominate the changes in amplitude of the received signal due to motion of air/tissue/fluid in the body of the subject. At lower frequencies, e.g. around 100 MHz, the amplitude changes will dominate the changes in phase.

    [0047] Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the antenna 8 shown in Figure 3 is merely exemplary, and other types of antenna 8 can be used.

    [0048] The antenna 8 can be used in several ways to obtain the modulated electromagnetic signal. Two exemplary embodiments are described below, but it should be appreciated that other arrangements are possible. In a first embodiment, the antenna 8 can be used to receive an electromagnetic signal at a resonance frequency of the antenna 8 and the modulated electromagnetic signal is a measurement of the return loss of the antenna. Those skilled in the art will be aware of techniques for measuring the return loss of an antenna 8 and further details are not provided herein. The processing unit 4 can be configured to measure changes in frequency, amplitude and/or phase of the modulated electromagnetic signal.

    [0049] For a loop antenna 8 as shown in Figure 3, the loop resonates at two frequencies, an inner loop resonance and outer loop resonance. That is, the inner loop 20, which is shielded by the outer loop (the shielding component 22), is used as the measurement antenna and has an inner loop resonance. The shield acts as a loop as well (it is parasitic) with its own higher resonance frequency. Thus, the loop has two resonance frequencies and the lowest is used.

    [0050] A second embodiment is shown in Figure 4. In this embodiment a phase locked loop (PLL) is used to generate the excitation signal for the antenna 8, and the control signal for the PLL provides the output signal representing the movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body of the subject.

    [0051] Figure 4 shows control circuitry 50 for the antenna 8, and comprises a reference oscillator 51, a PLL 52 that is connected to the reference oscillator 51 and that outputs an analog control signal (known as Vtune) to a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) 54. The Vtune signal is a result of a comparison of the signal from the reference oscillator 51 to the signal from the VCO 54. In response to the PLL analog control signal the VCO 54 generates an excitation signal at a required frequency and provides this to the antenna 8 so that the antenna 8 emits the excitation electromagnetic signal. As noted above the excitation electromagnetic signal will induce eddy currents in the body of the subject, and these eddy currents will induce a current in the antenna 8.

    [0052] The excitation signal is also provided to the PLL 52 as part of the feedback loop. The analog control signal from the PLL 52 is also provided to an analog-to-digital convertor (ADC) 56 which converts the analog control signal into a digital signal, and this digital signal is provided to a controller 58. The controller 58 determines a digital control signal for the PLL 52 and provides this to the PLL 52. As is known, in a PLL system, if the phase of the VCO 54 differs from the phase of the reference oscillator 51, the digital control signal corrects the VCO phase.

    [0053] Movements of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body effectively detune the antenna 8, and the digital control signal counters this detuning and corrects the phase of the VCO 54. The digital control signal therefore carries the information on the movements of the air, fluid and/or tissue, and the controller 58 determines an output signal 60 from the digital control signal that represents or contains the information on the movements of air, fluid or tissue in the body of the subject. Although this output signal 60 does not carry the actual phase and amplitude information, the physiological characteristics (e.g. heart rate, breathing rate) are clearly observable.

    [0054] The correction signal Vtune that is required to keep the VCO 54 at the required frequency is used to measure amplitude and/or phase shifts due to movements of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body of the subject. The phase shifts tend to dominate the amplitude changes. The PLL correction signal (the digital control signal output by the controller 58 derived from the analog PLL correction signal 50) is used to determine the output signal 60. For example the output signal 60 can correspond to the digital control signal with suitable filtering and/or down-sampling to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

    [0055] The flow chart in Figure 5 illustrates a method of processing breathing sounds produced by a subject according to the invention.

    [0056] In a first step, step 101, the sounds produced by the breathing of a subject 10 are measured. This step can be performed by a sound sensor 2 as described above, and the sound sensor 2 can output a sound signal representing the measured breathing sounds. It will be appreciated that the sound sensor 2 will also measure other sounds, such as the beating of the heart, and other sounds in the environment of the subject 10. The plot in Figure 6 shows an exemplary sound signal obtained using an accelerometer. In some embodiments, the sound signal may be low pass filtered in order to remove parts of the signal relating to heart beats (and noise), which occur with a higher frequency than breaths. Thus, the low pass filtering may have a cut-off frequency that is between a typical heart rate and a typical breathing rate.

    [0057] In a second step, step 103, which typically occurs at the same time as step 101 (i.e. at the same time that the sound signal is obtained), a modulated electromagnetic signal is received from the body using an antenna 8. This modulated electromagnetic signal will have been modulated by the movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body.

    [0058] In some embodiments, the modulated electromagnetic signal can be filtered to remove or minimise noise.

    [0059] In some embodiments, the method can further comprise a step of emitting an excitation electromagnetic signal into the body of the subject 10. This excitation electromagnetic signal can be emitted into the body of the subject 10 using the antenna 8, or a second antenna.

    [0060] Figure 7 shows an exemplary modulated electromagnetic signal obtained by an antenna 8 placed near a left-hand side rib of a subject for a 5-second period, and variations in the signal amplitude due to breathing can clearly be seen.

    [0061] Next, in step 105, the sound signal is normalised using the modulated electromagnetic signal. The modulations in the modulated electromagnetic signal are related to the depth with which the subject 10 is breathing (i.e. how much air is being inhaled and/or exhaled), and thus this information is used to normalise the sound of the subject's breathing for the depth of the breathing. Figure 8 shows the result of normalising a sound signal using the electromagnetic signal according to an embodiment. In particular, Figure 8 shows the result of normalising a sound signal that has been low-pass filtered to remove much of the signal relating to the heart beating. It will be appreciated that in Figure 8 the time axis is drawn with a different scale to Figures 6 and 7.

    [0062] In some embodiments, the normalised sound signal can be output to a user of the stethoscope apparatus 1, and thus the method can further comprise outputting the normalised sound signal to a user of the apparatus 1. For example the normalised sound signal can be output via a speaker in or associated with the apparatus 1. Alternatively or in addition, the normalised sound signal can be displayed graphically by a display screen on or associated with the apparatus 1.

    [0063] In some embodiments, the sound signal is normalised by dividing the amplitude of the measured sounds in the sound signal by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal. That is, the sound signal will comprise measurements of the amplitude of the sound at a plurality of sampling times, and the sound signal is normalised by dividing the amplitude of the measured sound at a particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at that time. Where the sound signal has been filtered in step 101, the filtered sound signal can be normalised in step 105.

    [0064] Depending on the relative processing times of the sound signal and the electromagnetic signal, it may be useful or necessary to apply a time shift to one of the signals so that they are aligned in time before normalising the (possibly filtered) sound signal. This time-shifting will improve the visibility or audibility of the physiological characteristic in the normalised sound signal.

    [0065] Alternatively, the modulated electromagnetic signal can be analysed to estimate the volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath, and the sound signal can be normalised using the estimated volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled.

    [0066] Therefore, there is provided an improved stethoscope apparatus and method of processing breathing sounds.

    [0067] While the invention has been illustrated and described in detail in the drawings and foregoing description, such illustration and description are to be considered illustrative or exemplary and not restrictive; the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiments.

    [0068] Variations to the disclosed embodiments can be understood and effected by those skilled in the art in practicing the claimed invention, from a study of the drawings, the disclosure, and the appended claims. In the claims, the word "comprising" does not exclude other elements or steps, and the indefinite article "a" or "an" does not exclude a plurality. A single processor or other processing unit may fulfil the functions of several items recited in the claims. The mere fact that certain measures are recited in mutually different dependent claims does not indicate that a combination of these measures cannot be used to advantage. A computer program may be stored/distributed on a suitable medium, such as an optical storage medium or a solid-state medium supplied together with or as part of other hardware, but may also be distributed in other forms, such as via the Internet or other wired or wireless telecommunication systems. Any reference signs in the claims should not be construed as limiting the scope.


    Claims

    1. A stethoscope apparatus (1), the stethoscope apparatus (1) comprising:

    a sound sensor (2) for measuring sounds produced by the breathing of a subject (10) and for outputting a sound signal representing the measured breathing sounds;

    a transmitting antenna for emitting an excitation electromagnetic signal into a body of the subject;

    a receiving antenna (8) for receiving a modulated electromagnetic signal from the body in response to the excitation electromagnetic signal, wherein the modulated electromagnetic signal is modulated by movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body;

    a processing unit (4) that is configured to:

    receive the sound signal from the sound sensor and the modulated electromagnetic signal from the antenna; and

    normalise the sound signal using the modulated electromagnetic signal.


     
    2. The stethoscope apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the processing unit (4) is configured to normalise the sound signal by:
    dividing an amplitude of the measured sounds in the received sound signal by an amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal.
     
    3. The stethoscope apparatus as claimed in claim 2, wherein the received sound signal comprises measurements of the amplitude of the sound at a plurality of sampling times, and wherein the processing unit is configured to normalise the sound signal by:
    dividing the amplitude of the measured sound at a particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at said particular sampling time.
     
    4. The stethoscope apparatus as claimed in claim 1, wherein the processing unit (4) is configured to normalise the sound signal by:

    analysing the modulated electromagnetic signal to estimate the volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath; and

    normalising the sound signal using the estimated volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath.


     
    5. The stethoscope apparatus as claimed in any of claims 1-4, wherein the stethoscope apparatus further comprises:
    a speaker for outputting the normalised sound signal to a user of the stethoscope apparatus.
     
    6. The stethoscope apparatus as claimed in any of claims 1-5, wherein the transmitting antenna is the same antenna as the receiving antenna (8).
     
    7. A method of processing breathing sounds produced by a subject, the method comprising:

    measuring sounds produced by the breathing of a subject using a sound sensor and outputting a sound signal representing the measured breathing sounds;

    emitting an excitation electromagnetic signal into a body of the subject using a transmitting antenna;

    receiving a modulated electromagnetic signal from the body in response to the excitation electromagnetic signal using a receiving antenna, wherein the modulated electromagnetic signal is modulated by movement of air, fluid and/or tissue in the body; and

    normalising the sound signal using the modulated electromagnetic signal.


     
    8. The method as claimed in claim 7, wherein the step of normalising the sound signal comprises:
    dividing an amplitude of the measured sounds in the received sound signal by an amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal.
     
    9. The method as claimed in claim 8, wherein the received sound signal comprises measurements of the amplitude of the sound at a plurality of sampling times, and wherein the step of normalising the sound signal comprises:
    dividing the amplitude of the measured sound at a particular sampling time by the amplitude of the modulated electromagnetic signal at said particular sampling time.
     
    10. The method as claimed in claim 9, wherein the step of normalising the sound signal comprises:

    analysing the modulated electromagnetic signal to estimate the volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath; and

    normalising the sound signal using the estimated volume of air inhaled and/or exhaled by the subject in each breath.


     
    11. The method as claimed in any of claims 7-10, wherein the method further comprises:
    outputting the normalised sound signal using a speaker.
     
    12. The method as claimed in any of claims 7-11, wherein the same antenna is used as transmitting antenna and as receiving antenna.
     
    13. A computer program product comprising a computer readable medium having computer readable code embodied therein, the computer readable code being configured such that, on execution by the processing unit (4) of a stethoscope apparatus (1) according to any of claims 1-6, the stethoscope apparatus (1) is caused to perform the method of any of claims 7-12.
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Stethoskopgerät (1), wobei das Stethoskopgerät (1) umfasst:

    einen Schallsensor (2) zum Messen von Geräuschen, die durch das Atmen eines Subjekts (10) erzeugt werden, und zum Ausgeben eines Schallsignals, das die gemessenen Atemgeräusche darstellt;

    eine Sendeantenne zum Aussenden eines elektromagnetischen Anregungssignals in einen Körper des Subjekts;

    eine Empfangsantenne (8) zum Empfangen eines modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals vom Körper als Reaktion auf das elektromagnetische Anregungssignal, wobei das modulierte elektromagnetische Signal durch Bewegung von Luft, Flüssigkeit und/oder Gewebe im Körper moduliert wird;

    eine Verarbeitungseinheit (4), die konfiguriert ist, um:

    das Schallsignal vom Schallsensor und das modulierte elektromagnetische Signal von der Antenne zu empfangen; und

    das Schallsignal unter Verwendung des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals zu normalisieren.


     
    2. Stethoskopgerät nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Verarbeitungseinheit (4) konfiguriert ist, um das Schallsignal zu normalisieren,
    indem eine Amplitude der gemessenen Schalle in dem empfangenen Schallsignal durch eine Amplitude des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals geteilt wird.
     
    3. Stethoskopgerät nach Anspruch 2, wobei das empfangene Schallsignal Messungen der Amplitude des Schalls bei mehreren Abtastzeiten umfasst, und wobei die Verarbeitungseinheit konfiguriert ist, um das Schallsignal zu normalisieren,
    indem die Amplitude des gemessenen Schalls bei einer bestimmten Abtastzeit durch die Amplitude des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals bei dieser bestimmten Abtastzeit geteilt wird.
     
    4. Stethoskopgerät nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Verarbeitungseinheit (4) konfiguriert ist, um das Schallsignal zu normalisieren,
    indem das modulierte elektromagnetische Signal analysiert wird, um das von dem Subjekt in jedem Atemzug ein- und/oder ausgeatmete Luftvolumen abzuschätzen; und
    indem das Schallsignal normalisiert wird, unter Verwendung des geschätzten Luftvolumens, das von dem Subjekt in jedem Atemzug ein- und/oder ausgeatmet wird.
     
    5. Stethoskopgerät nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 4, wobei das Stethoskopgerät ferner umfasst:

    einen Lautsprecher zum Ausgeben des normalisierten Schallsignals an einen Benutzer des Stethoskopgeräts.


     
    6. Stethoskopgerät nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 5, wobei die Sendeantenne dieselbe Antenne wie die Empfangsantenne (8) ist.
     
    7. Verfahren zum Verarbeiten von Atemgeräuschen, die von einem Subjekt erzeugt werden, wobei das Verfahren umfasst:

    Messen von Geräuschen, die durch das Atmen eines Subjekts erzeugt werden, unter Verwendung eines Schallsensors und Ausgeben eines Schallsignals, das die gemessenen Atemgeräusche darstellt;

    Aussenden eines elektromagnetischen Anregungssignals in einen Körper des Subjekts unter Verwendung einer Sendeantenne;

    Empfangen eines modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals vom Körper als Reaktion auf das elektromagnetische Anregungssignal unter Verwendung einer Empfangsantenne, wobei das modulierte elektromagnetische Signal durch Bewegung von Luft, Flüssigkeit und/oder Gewebe im Körper moduliert wird; und

    Normalisieren des Schallsignals unter Verwendung des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals.


     
    8. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, wobei der Schritt des Normalisierens des Schallsignals umfasst:
    Teilen einer Amplitude der gemessenen Schalle in dem empfangenen Schallsignal durch eine Amplitude des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals.
     
    9. Verfahren nach Anspruch 8, wobei das empfangene Schallsignal Messungen der Amplitude des Schalls bei mehreren Abtastzeiten umfasst, und wobei der Schritt des Normalisierens des Schallsignals umfasst:
    Teilen der Amplitude des gemessenen Schalls bei a bestimmte Abtastzeit durch die Amplitude des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals bei dieser bestimmten Abtastzeit.
     
    10. Verfahren nach Anspruch 9, wobei der Schritt des Normalisierens des Schallsignals umfasst:

    Analysieren des modulierten elektromagnetischen Signals, um das Luftvolumen abzuschätzen, das von dem Subjekt in jedem Atemzug ein- und/oder ausgeatmet wird; und

    Normalisieren des Schallsignals unter Verwendung des geschätzten Luftvolumens, das von dem Subjekt in jedem Atemzug ein- und/oder ausgeatmet wird.


     
    11. Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 7 bis 10, wobei das Verfahren ferner umfasst:
    Ausgeben des normalisierten Schallsignals unter Verwendung eines Lautsprechers.
     
    12. Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 7 bis 11, wobei dieselbe Antenne als Sendeantenne und als Empfangsantenne verwendet wird.
     
    13. Computerprogrammprodukt, umfassend ein computerlesbares Medium mit darin enthaltenem computerlesbarem Code, wobei der computerlesbare Code so konfiguriert ist, dass bei Ausführung durch die Verarbeitungseinheit (4) eines Stethoskopgeräts (1) gemäß einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 6 wird das Stethoskopgerät (1) veranlasst, das Verfahren nach einem der Ansprüche 7 bis 12 durchzuführen.
     


    Revendications

    1. Appareil stéthoscope (1), l'appareil stéthoscope (1) comprenant:

    un capteur sonore (2) pour mesurer les sons produits par la respiration d'un sujet (10) et pour émettre un signal sonore représentant les sons respiratoires mesurés;

    une antenne d'émission pour émettre un signal électromagnétique d'excitation dans un corps d'un sujet;

    une antenne de réception (8) pour recevoir un signal électromagnétique modulé du corps en réponse au signal électromagnétique d'excitation, où le signal électromagnétique modulé est modulé par le mouvement d'air, de fluide et/ou de tissu dans le corps;

    une unité de traitement (4) qui est configurée pour:

    recevoir le signal sonore du capteur sonore et le signal électromagnétique modulé de l'antenne; et

    normaliser le signal sonore en utilisant le signal électromagnétique modulé.


     
    2. Appareil stéthoscope selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'unité de traitement (4) est configurée pour normaliser le signal sonore par:
    division d'une amplitude des sons mesurés dans le signal sonore reçu par une amplitude du signal électromagnétique modulé.
     
    3. Appareil stéthoscope selon la revendication 2, dans lequel le signal sonore reçu comprend des mesures de l'amplitude du son à une pluralité de temps d'échantillonnage, et dans lequel l'unité de traitement est configurée pour normaliser le signal sonore par:
    division de l'amplitude du son mesuré à un temps d'échantillonnage particulier par l'amplitude du signal électromagnétique modulé audit temps d'échantillonnage particulier.
     
    4. Appareil stéthoscope selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'unité de traitement (4) est configurée pour normaliser le signal sonore par:

    analyse du signal électromagnétique modulé pour estimer le volume d'air inhalé et/ou expiré par le sujet à chaque respiration; et

    normalisation du signal sonore en utilisant le volume estimé d'air inhalé et/ou expiré par le sujet à chaque respiration.


     
    5. Appareil stéthoscope selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 4, dans lequel l'appareil stéthoscope comprend en outre:
    un haut-parleur pour délivrer le signal sonore normalisé à un utilisateur de l'appareil stéthoscope.
     
    6. Appareil stéthoscope selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 5, dans lequel l'antenne d'émission est la même antenne que l'antenne de réception (8).
     
    7. Procédé de traitement de sons respiratoires produits par un sujet, le procédé comprenant:

    la mesure de sons produits par la respiration d'un sujet en utilisant un capteur sonore et la sortie d'un signal sonore représentant les sons respiratoires mesurés;

    l'émission d'un signal électromagnétique d'excitation dans un corps d'un sujet en utilisant une antenne d'émission;

    la réception d'un signal électromagnétique modulé du corps en réponse au signal électromagnétique d'excitation en utilisant une antenne de réception, où le signal électromagnétique modulé est modulé par le mouvement d'air, de fluide et/ou de tissu dans le corps; et

    la normalisation du signal sonore en utilisant le signal électromagnétique modulé.


     
    8. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel l'étape de normalisation du signal sonore comprend:
    la division d'une amplitude des sons mesurés dans le signal sonore reçu par une amplitude du signal électromagnétique modulé.
     
    9. Procédé selon la revendication 8, dans lequel le signal sonore reçu comprend des mesures de l'amplitude du son à une pluralité de temps d'échantillonnage, et dans lequel l'étape de normalisation du signal sonore comprend:
    la division de l'amplitude du son mesuré à un temps d'échantillonnage particulier par l'amplitude du signal électromagnétique modulé audit temps d'échantillonnage particulier.
     
    10. Procédé selon la revendication 9, dans lequel l'étape de normalisation du signal sonore comprend:

    l'analyse du signal électromagnétique modulé pour estimer le volume d'air inhalé et/ou exhalé par le sujet à chaque respiration; et

    la normalisation du signal sonore en utilisant le volume estimé d'air inhalé et/ou expiré par le sujet à chaque respiration.


     
    11. Procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 7 à 10, dans lequel le procédé comprend en outre:
    la sortie du signal sonore normalisé en utilisant un haut-parleur.
     
    12. Procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 7 à 11, dans lequel la même antenne est utilisée comme antenne d'émission et comme antenne de réception.
     
    13. Produit programme d'ordinateur comprenant un support lisible par ordinateur ayant un code lisible par ordinateur y incorporé, le code lisible par ordinateur étant configuré de telle sorte que, lors de l'exécution par l'unité de traitement (4) d'un appareil stéthoscope (1) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1-6, l'appareil stéthoscope (1) est amené à exécuter le procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications 7 à 12.
     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



    This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

    Patent documents cited in the description