Common Medical Abbreviations You Should Know
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Common Medical Abbreviations You Should Know

This article will define and explain some of the most common medical abbreviations used by doctor's, nurses, and technicians which you may encounter at hospitals, clinics, and in medical literature - or even on television. Being able to recognize and understand these terms may help you converse more easily with your doctor, or understand some of the treatments, medications, and medical procedures you or a loved one may encounter.

How often do you hear abbreviations used, and although you may have a vague understanding of the meaning, you don't actually know what the abbreviation stands for?  This article will deal with medical abbreviations which you may encounter in the course of your day, some more frequently than others.  For fun, test yourself with the following list of abbreviations to see how many you may already know.

Common Medical Abreviations You Should Know

ALS = Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis; also known as Lou Gehrig disease. 

ARMD or AMD = Age-Related Macular Degeneration.  This is a disease affecting the macula, which is the area of the retina responsible for central vision, color vision, and vision in daylight and bright light (as opposed to dim lighting or darkness).

b.i.d. = twice a day (Latin, bis in die); a notation often encountered on a doctor's prescription

BP = Blood Pressure

BSE = Breast Self-Examination

COPD = Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; a persistent obstruction of air flow, such as found in long-time heavy smokers, people with chronic bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.

CPR = Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation; a procedure administered to restore normal breathing after cardiac arrest.

D&C = Dilation and Curretage; a medical procedure to dilate the cervix and scrape the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to diagnose or treat the patient for abnormal bleeding.

DNA = Deoxyribonucleic Acid; chemical found within each chromosome, responsible for cell division and protein synthesis.  DNA is unique to each person, with the exception of identical twins.

DOB = Date of Birth

EMT = Emergency Medical Technician

ENT = Ears, Nose, and Throat

ETT = Exercise Tolerance Test

FBS = Fasting Blood Sugar

GERD = Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease; characterized by frequent heartburn due to stomach juices regurgitating into the esophagus, which can potentially cause damage to it.

GI = Gastrointestinal; anything relating to both the stomach and the intestines

HBV, HCV = Hepatitis B and C viruses (respectively).

HD = Hemodialysis; also called an artificial kidney machine.  Patients with low kidney function or kidney failure are hooked up to a dialysis machine via a shunt inserted into a vein, usually in an arm or the chest.  The patient's blood is then circulated through the machine where it is cleaned of toxins.  This process takes about 3 or 4 hours, and is usually performed three times a week.

HDL = High-density lipoprotein; this is the "good cholesterol", associated with the decreased possibility of developing atherosclerosis.

HGH = Human Growth Hormone; the naturally-occurring growth hormone of humans, or the manufactured equivalent used to treat children with growth deficiencies, and commonly used by athletes to increase muscles mass.

HPV = Human Papillomavirus, a (usually) sexually transmitted disease causing genital warts; one strain of this virus causes plantar warts and yet another has been linked to cervical cancer.

HTN = Hypertension; high blood pressure.  Also abbreviated as HBP.

IBS = Irritable Bowel Syndrome; a disorder of unknown origin which causes abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, and mucous in the stool.

IM = Intramuscular; occurring within a muscle, usually refers to medication injected directly into a muscle rather than a vein. 

IOL = Intraocular Lens; this is an artificial lens implant which replaces the natural lens of the eye (most commonly related to cataract surgery)

IOP = Intraocular Pressure; a measurement of the (naturally occurring) pressure of fluid within the eye.  Normal IOP ranges from 10-20 mmHg (mmHg = millimeters of Mercury).  Diseases such as glaucoma result in increased pressure and will eventually cause blindness if not treated. 

IUD = Intrauterine Device; a contraceptive device placed in the uterus (and left there) to prevent pregnancy.

IV = Intravenous; medication or rehydration delivered through an injection into a vein.

LDL = Low-density lipoprotein; known as "bad cholesterol".  High levels of LDL are linked to heart disease.

LVAD = Left Ventricular Assist Device.  Patients who are awaiting a heart transplant may need a LVAD, which is basically a booster pump to assist the heart.

MAOI = Monoamine oxidase inhibitor.  A group of antidepressants, not used as often now due to their link to serious liver and cardiovascular complications.  It works by suppressing an enzyme that degrades neurotransmitters.

MG = Myasthenia Gravis; literally translated means "grave muscle weakness".  This is a chronic autoimmune disorder, marked by weakness of the voluntary muscles (those attached to bone).  Onset symptoms may include eyelid drooping, double vision, and facial weakness.

MMR = Measles-Mumps-Rubella; Indicates the vaccine given for these three diseases.  (Rubella is also known as German Measles)

MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging; a diagnostic tool that uses magnets, rather than x-rays.  This is used when soft tissue (brain, blood vessels, abdomen and chest) needs examined, as well as when a series of cross-sectional views would give a better diagnosis.  

MS = Multiple Sclerosis; the formation of hard (sclerotic) tissue in the brain and/or spinal cord.  Symptoms are chronic and include muscle weakness, difficulty walking (unsteady gait), speech problems and even paralysis.  Etiology is unknown, although it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder or viral disease.

PD = Peritoneal Dialysis; one type of method used to clean toxins from the blood of patients with decreased kidney function.  Cleansing fluid is passed through a catheter into the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity.  Waste and toxins from the bloodstream then pass through the capillaries and into the fluid; this waste-filled fluid is then drained via catheter.  This type of dialysis can be performed at home, but is more cumbersome and takes longer than hemodialysis.  CAPD refers to Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (performed continuously); CCPD is Continuous Cycling Peritoneal Dialysis (performed at night while sleeping).

q.i.d. = four times daily (Latin, quater in die); a common notation often encountered on a doctor's prescription.

RA = Rheumatoid Arthritis; a chronic disease (thought to be an autoimmune reaction) causing severe pain, stiffness and inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.  As it progresses, bone and cartilage may also atrophy.  Differs from osteoarthritis (OA) where the synovial membrane is not affected, and severe inflammation is not usually associated with OA.

REM = Rapid Eye Movement; refers to the period of sleep where the eyes move rapidly, indicating a dream state and increased neuronal activity of the fore brain and mid brain.  REM occurs cyclically throughout the course of a night's sleep (in healthy humans).

RNA = Ribonucleic Acid; the molecule within a cell which assists DNA with creating new proteins for cellular growth.

SAD = Seasonal Affective Disorder; a mood disorder causing depression during the months with less daylight.

SARS = Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; a serious illness caused by a virus (Coronavirus) which causes extreme difficulty in breathing, fever, headache, and pneumonia-like symptoms.

SSRI = Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor; a family of antidepressants which increase the action of neurotransmitters by blocking their removal.  Includes Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

TIA = Transient Ischemic Attack; a small stroke.

TMJ = Temporomandibular joint.  Technically, TMJ is just a reference for the joint that controls the jaw; however, it is most commonly used to indicate the syndrome which causes jaw pain and headaches, popping, clicking, and tenderness of the jaw and jaw area.

VA = Visual Acuity

To further your knowledge, look for my upcoming related articles on how to understand medical terminology based on root words and their prefixes and suffixes.  These articles will appear as a series entitled How To Understand Medical Terminology.

© Sharla Smith February 2012

Image Credit:  Stock.xchng


My own knowledge from experience and training in Medical Terminology Courses, supported by the following texts:

The Language of Medicine; Davi-Ellen Chabner; Saunders, 2004

Mirriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary; Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 2006

Additional resources:

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Comments (14)

Thanks for the info and resources; voted.

Bethany, I appreciate your support; thanks!

Very informative. There was quite a few on your list I didn't know.

A great list to keep handy.

Chris and Mark, thank you both for reading. Glad you found it useful.

Sharla, your articles always amaze me. Another fine piece of work.

Interesting Sharla. Voted up. Hope for your support.

Thank you for your nice comments Martin and Paulose. I appreciate your support.

Concise list, thanks Sharla!

You're welcome, Kimberley. Thanks for reading!

A informative and useful article containing information for day to day use.Thanks.

very useful especially to students taking medical related courses

Very informative

Thanks very much, I am a copy editor for scientific magazines and I find this very useful and helpful.