List of medical abbreviations

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Medical abbreviations are a shorthand way of writing and talking by medical professionals (people who work to help sick people) to hurry explanation of diseases (sickness), patients, or medicines (drugs).

This shorthand can include shortening (making less lengthy) of longer disease names, by cutting the word down to its base (the Latin or Greek part that makes it). Medical professionals also create (make) words that mean something. An example of this is "stat", used to indicate (show) that something needs to be hurried (done faster). It is from the Latin "base word" statim, meaning quick. A very commonly (often) used shorthand is shortening things on order forms for patients. An example is, "pre-op" meaning |pre-operation| (patient who is being prepared for surgery). These can be very complicated and extensive (meaning there is a lot of them).

Despite the fact that this shorthand might make it difficult for new Interns (new doctors) or recently trained nurses to get used to this unofficial language, it has been shown to improve (make better) the speed of treatment in hospitals.

Medical authorities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have questioned the use of medical shorthand; believing that it can lead to mistakes being made due to less clear communication and have advised doctors to avoid its use.[1]

Medications[change | change source]

How to take medications[change | change source]

Medications can be given in different ways (routes). Abbreviations for the most common routes are:[2]

Abbreviation: Means the medication is taken:
PO By mouth (swallowed)
IM Intramuscularly (injected into a muscle)
INH Inhaled (breathed in)
IV Intravenously (injected into a vein)
PR "Per rectum" (placed into the rectum)
SC, SQ, Sub-q "Subcutaneous" (injected under the skin)

When to take medications[change | change source]

Doctors use many different abbreviations to say when to take a medication. It is helpful to remember that doctors use the letter "q" to stand for "every. For example, "qAM" stands for "every AM" (morning).[2]

Here are some of the most common:[2]

Abbreviation: This Means the Medicine Should Be Taken:
qAM Every morning
qPM Every evening
qHS At bedtime
prn As needed (the person should take the medication only when they need it)
qd Once a day
bid Twice a day
tid Three times a day
qid Four times a day
qod Every other day
qwk Every week
qmo Every month

Drugs & medications[change | change source]

Some drugs and medications have common abbreviations. Here are some examples:[3]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Notes
APAP Acetaminophen Common brand name: Tylenol
ASA Aspirin "ASA" is short for Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin's original name)
ETOH Alcohol Stands for ethanol (drinking alcohol)
MVI Multivitamin A set of vitamins in one pill
NSAID Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Pronounced "en-sed"; examples are ibuprofen and aspirin
NTG Nitroglycerin Used for heart attacks and other problems; also called "nitro"
OBC Oral birth control Birth control taken as a pill (also called OC: oral contraceptive)
OTC An over-the-counter drug Can be bought without a doctor's prescription
PCP Phencyclidine An illegal drug that causes hallucinations
SSRI Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor A type of antidepressant; examples are Prozac and Paxil

About the body[change | change source]

Common abbreviations that have to do with the human body include:[4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning
BP Blood pressure A measure of how hard the heart is working
HR Heart rate How many times the heart beats in one minute
O2 Oxygen Pronounced "oh-too"
O2 sats Oxygen saturation A measure of how much oxygen a person is getting
RBC Red blood cells The cells in the blood that carry oxygen
RR Respiratory rate How many times a person breathes in one minute
VS Vital signs A patient's blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature
WBC White blood cells The cells in the blood that fight infection
WNL Within Normal Limits Normal for the patient's age and gender
(Example: "VS WNL" means "vital signs are normal for this patient")

Medical specialties[change | change source]

There are many different kinds of medical specialties. These are kinds of doctors that treat people with certain kinds of problems. Abbreviations for medical specialties include:[4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning
ENT Ears, Nose, and Throat Treats problems with the ears, nose, and throat
ER Emergency room Treats medical emergencies
GI Gastrointestinal Treats problems with the gastrointestinal tract
GU Genitourinary Treats problems with the genitals or the urinary system
GYN Gynecology Treats and prevents problems with a woman's reproductive system
Hem/Onc Hematology/Oncology Treats blood disorders and cancer (pronounced "HEEM-onk")
ICU Intensive Care Unit A special hospital unit for very sick people
Neuro Neurology Involves the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) (pronounced "NURR-oh")
OB Obstetrics The medical specialty that treats women while they are pregnant and giving birth
OR Operating room Part of the hospital where surgery is done
Ortho Orthopedics Treats problems with the bones, like broken bones
Pedi Pediatrics Pediatric doctors (pediatricians) treat children (pronounced "PEE-dee")

Health problems[change | change source]

Many health problems have common abbreviations. For example:[5][4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: A Problem With: Meaning/Notes
A-fib Atrial fibrillation Heart A type of abnormal heartbeat where the heart beats quickly and irregularly
CA Cancer A group of diseases caused by abnormal cells growing out of control
CAD Coronary artery disease Heart The arteries that bring blood to the heart get blocked off and cannot bring enough blood to the heart
CHF Congestive heart failure Heart The heart cannot pump enough blood to the body
COPD Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Lungs A group of chronic diseases that make it hard to breathe
CVA Cerebrovascular accident Brain Stroke
DM Diabetes mellitus Metabolism See also diabetes mellitus type 1 (DM1) and diabetes mellitus type 2 (DM2)
DJD Degenerative Joint Disease Joints Arthritis
DVT Deep vein thrombosis Blood clotting A blood clot, usually in a big vein in the leg
HTN Hypertension Circulatory system High blood pressure
IDDM Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Metabolism Diabetes that needs to be treated with insulin (usually type 1 diabetes)
Mets Metastasis Cancer The original cancer has spread to another place in the body
MI Myocardial infarction Heart Heart attack (also called AMI, for "acute myocardial infarction")
NIDDM Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Metabolism Diabetes that does not need to be treated with insulin (usually type 2 diabetes)
OD Overdose Taking too much medication or drugs, either accidentally or on purpose
SOB Shortness of Breath Breathing Having trouble breathing
TIA Transient ischemic attack Brain A small stroke that does not leave any permanent brain damage
V-fib Ventricular fibrillation Heart The heart quivers and twitches, and cannot pump blood to the body
V-tach Ventricular tachycardia Heart The heart beats too fast to pump blood to the body; pronounced "V-tack"

Infections[change | change source]

Common abbreviations for infections include:[5][4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning/Notes
C. diff Clostridium difficile infection Bacteria attack the intestines; many antibiotics will not kill C. diff (pronounced "SEE-diff")
HCV Hepatitis C virus A chronic infection of the liver
HIV Human immunodeficiency virus The virus that causes AIDS
HPV Human papillomavirus A virus that can cause cancer
MRSA Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus A bacterial infection that many antibiotics will not kill (pronounced "MURR-suh")
PID Pelvic inflammatory disease An infection of a woman's reproductive system
STI Sexually transmitted infection Used to be called "STD" (sexually transmitted disease)
TB Tuberculosis An infection of the lungs
URI Upper respiratory infection An infection of the upper respiratory tract; examples are the common cold and sinus infections
UTI Urinary tract infection An infection of the bladder or kidneys

Mental health problems[change | change source]

Common abbreviations for mental health problems include:[4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning/Notes
ADHD Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder Used to be called ADD (Attention-deficit disorder)
ASD Autism spectrum disorder A group of disorders, including autism and Asperger syndrome
GAD Generalized anxiety disorder Causes a person to feel very anxious and worried, most of the time
OCD Obsessive-compulsive disorder An anxiety disorder that causes unwanted thoughts and actions
ODD Oppositional defiant disorder A pattern of angry behavior, arguing, and causing trouble
PTSD Post-traumatic stress disorder Caused by psychological trauma
SI Suicidal ideation When a person thinks about killing themselves

Tests & treatments[change | change source]

Doctors often talk about common medical tests and treatments by using abbreviations. Examples of these abbreviations include:[4][2]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning
CABG Coronary artery bypass graft Surgery to treat blocked arteries that bring blood to the heart; pronounced "cabbage"
CBC Complete Blood Count A basic blood test that counts the number of blood cells in a person's blood
CPR Cardiopulmonary resuscitation Emergency treatment done when a person's heart or breathing stops
CT Computed tomography scan Uses X-rays to make a 3-D picture of the inside of the body; also called a "CAT scan"
ECG; EKG Electrocardiogram Test of the heart's electrical activity
Echo Echocardiogram Test that uses sound waves to make a picture of the heart and whether it is working normally
EEG Electroencephalogram Test of the brain's electrical activity
LFTs Liver function tests Tests of how well the liver is working (usually blood tests)
MRI Magnetic resonance imaging Uses a very strong magnet to make a 3-D picture of the inside of the body
XRT X-ray Therapy Usually means radiation therapy for cancer

Other abbreviations[change | change source]

Other abbreviations used in medicine include:[4]

Abbreviation: Stands For: Meaning
a Before Example: "Take a 8:00" means "Take (this medication) before 8:00"
AMA Against Medical Advice The patient is doing something that their doctors told them not to (example: "patient left the hospital AMA")
BMI Body Mass Index A measure of how much a person weighs based on their height
c With Example: "Take c food" means "Take (this medication) with food"
DNR Do Not Resuscitate The patient has a Do Not Resuscitate order saying they do not want to be resuscitated if their heart stops
Dx Diagnosis The medical problem a person has
NKDA No known drug allergies Means a person is not allergic to any medications
NPO Nothing by mouth The patient should not swallow anything (no food, liquids, or medications)
p After Example: "Patient had pain p eating" means "Patient had pain after eating"

References[change | change source]

  1. "Are TLAs more trouble than they're worth?". StudentBMJ. 2006. Retrieved 07-03-2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Alphabetical Listing of Medical Abbreviations". Spinal Cord Resource Center. United Spinal Association. 2015. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  3. "Prescriptions and Medication Orders". The Pharmaceutics and Compounding Laboratory. University of North Carolina – Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 "Appendix B: Some Common Abbreviations". MedlinePlus. United States National Library of Medicine. April 18, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Medical Abbreviations". The Pharmaceutics and Compounding Laboratory. University of North Carolina – Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Retrieved February 22, 2016.