Common Medical Abbreviations and Acronyms List

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medical abbreviations: What do they mean?

Have you ever wondered why you can't read the doctor's note or the letters and numbers on a prescription? Health care professionals often quickly scribble notes with important medical information that they would like a patient to reference in regard to the type of current, or recently diagnosed disease, syndrome, or other health condition(s). Have you ever see the doctor's notes in your medical record and found peculiar abbreviations and jargon? Do you wonder what the letters and numbers mean on your prescriptions or other items related to a disease, syndrome, or disorder?

Doctors and other health care professionals commonly use a list of abbreviations, acronyms, and other medical terminology as a reference to rapidly search and accurately record information about, and give instructions to their patients. There is no standard or approved list used by health care professionals to search for medical acronyms or abbreviations. Therefore, it is important to understand the context in which the abbreviation or term has been used.

Abbreviations, acronyms, and medical terminology are used for many conditions, and for instructions on medication prescribed by your doctor. This is a short list of common abbreviations you may have seen on a doctor's notepad; a prescription drug package or bottle; lab or other test results; or in your doctor's notes.

Use this list as a resource for common abbreviations and acronyms used in the health care community, to quickly search and answer your questions about those letters and numbers of a drug your doctor has prescribed to you, or other notes from your doctor or other medical professionals.

A - Medical abbreviations

  • a.c.: Before meals. As in taking a medicine before meals.
  • a/g ratio: Albumin to globulin ratio.
  • ACL: Anterior cruciate ligament. ACL injuries are one of the most common ligament injuries to the knee. The ACL can be sprained or completely torn from trauma and/or degeneration.
  • Ad lib: At liberty. For example, a patient may be permitted to move out of bed freely and orders would, therefore, be for activities to be ad lib.
  • AFR: Acute renal failure
  • ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • ADR: Adverse drug reaction. If a patient is taking a prescription drug to treat high blood pressure disease
  • AIDS: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  • AKA: Above the knee amputation.
  • Anuric: Not producing urine. A person who is anuric is often critical and may require dialysis.
  • ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
  • ADH: Antidiuretic hormone
  • ARDS: Acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
  • ASCVD: Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. A form of heart disease.

B - Medical abbreviations

  • b.i.d.: Twice daily. As in taking a medicine twice daily.
  • bld: Blood. Blood was visible on the patient’s scalp.
  • Bandemia: Slang for elevated level of band forms of white blood cells.
  • Bibasilar: At the bases of both lungs. For example, someone with a pneumonia in both lungs might have abnormal bibasilar breath sounds.
  • BKA: Below the knee amputation.
  • BMP: Basic metabolic panel. Electrolytes (potassium, sodium, carbon dioxide, and chloride) and creatinine and glucose.
  • BP: Blood pressure. Blood pressure is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
  • BPD: Borderline personality disorder. A personality disorder.
  • BSO: Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. A BSO is the removal of both of the ovaries and adjacent Fallopian tubes and often is performed as part of a total abdominal hysterectomy.

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C - Medical abbreviations

  • C&S: Culture and sensitivity, performed to detect infection.
  • C/O: Complaint of. The patient's expressed concern.
  • cap: Capsule.
  • Ca: Cancer; carcinoma. For example, a patient who undergoing treatment for cancer should assure that they are eating and drinking enough fluids daily, both during and after treatment.
  • CABG. Coronary artery bypass graft. A surgery involving the heart.
  • CBC: Complete blood count.
  • CC: Chief complaint. The patient's main concern.
  • CDE: Complete dental (oral) evaluation.
  • cc: Cubic centimeters. For example, the amount of fluid removed from the body is recorded in ccs.
  • Chem panel: Chemistry panel. A comprehensive screening blood test that indicates the status of the liver, kidneys, and electrolytes.
  • CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • CT: Chemotherapy. A type of treatment therapy for cancer.
  • CVA: Cerebrovascular accident (Stroke).

D - Medical abbreviations

  • D/C or DC: Discontinue or discharge. For example, a doctor will D/C a drug. Alternatively, the doctor might DC a patient from the hospital.
  • DCIS: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. A type of breast cancer. The patient is receiving treatment for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.
  • DDX: Differential diagnosis. A variety diagnostic possibilities are being considered to diagnose the type of cancer present in the patient.
  • DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
  • DM: Diabetes mellitus.
  • DNC, D&C, or D and C: Dilation and curettage. Widening the cervix and scrapping with a curette for the purpose of removing tissue lining the inner surface of the womb (uterus).
  • DNR: Do not resuscitate. This is a specific order not to revive a patient artificially if they succumb to illness. If a patient is given a DNR order, they are not resuscitated if they are near death and no code blue is called.
  • DOE: Dyspnea on exertion. Shortness of breath with activity.
  • DTR: Deep tendon reflexes. These are reflexes that the doctor tests by banging on the tendons with a rubber hammer.
  • DVT: Deep venous thrombosis (blood clot in large vein).

E - Medical abbreviations

  • ETOH: Alcohol. ETOH intake history is often recorded as part of a patient history.
  • ECT: Electroconclusive therapy. A procedure used to control seizures (convulsions).

F - Medical abbreviations

G - Medical abbreviations

  • g: gram, a unit of weight. The cream is available in both 30 and 60 gram tubes.
  • GOMER: Slang for "get out of my emergency room."
  • GvHD: Graft vs. host disease. It is complicated by the syndromes of acute and chronic graft-vs-host disease (GVHD).
  • gtt: Drops.

H - Medical abbreviations

I - Medical abbreviations

  • I&D: Incision and drainage.
  • IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • ICD: Implantable cardioverter defibrillator
  • ICU: Intensive care unit. The patient was moved to the intensive care unit.
  • IM: Intramuscular. This is a typical notation when noting or ordering an injection (shot) given into muscle, such as with B12 for pernicious anemia.
  • IMP: Impression. This is the summary conclusion of the patient's condition by the healthcare professional at that particular date and time.
  • ITU: Intensive therapy unit
  • in vitro: In the laboratory
  • in vivo: In the body
  • IPF: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. A type of lung disease.
  • IU: International units.

J - Medical abbreviations

  • JT: Joint.

K - Medical abbreviations

  • K: Potassium. An essential electrolyte frequently monitored regularly in intensive care.
  • KCL: Potassium chloride.

L - Medical abbreviations

  • LCIS: Lobular Carcinoma In Situ. A type of cancer of the breast. The patient is receiving treatment for Lobular Carcinoma In Situ.
  • LBP: Low back pain. LBP is one of most common medical complaints.
  • LLQ: Left lower quadrant. Diverticulitis pain is often in the LLQ of the abdomen.
  • LUQ: Left upper quadrant. The spleen is located in the LUQ of the abdomen.
  • Lytes: Electrolytes (potassium, sodium, carbon dioxide, and chloride).

M - Medical abbreviations

  • MCL: Medial collateral ligament.
  • mg: Milligrams.
  • M/H: Medical history
  • ml: Milliliters.
  • MVP: Mitral valve prolapse.

N - Medical abbreviations

  • N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
  • Na: Sodium. An essential electrolyte frequently monitored regularly in intensive care.
  • NCP: Nursing care plan
  • npo: Nothing by mouth. For example, if a patient was about to undergo a surgical operation requiring general anesthesia, they may be required to avoid food or beverage prior to the procedure.
  • NSR: Normal sinus rhythm of the heart

O - Medical abbreviations

  • O&P: Ova and parasites. Stool O & P is tested in the laboratory to detect parasitic infection in persons with chronic diarrhea.
  • O.D.: Right eye.
  • O.S.: Left eye.
  • O.U.: Both eyes.
  • ORIF: Open reduction and internal fixation, such as with the orthopedic repair of a hip fracture.

P - Medical abbreviations

  • P: Pulse. Pulse is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
  • : After meals. As in take two tablets after meals.
  • p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
  • p.r.n.: As needed. So that it is not always done, but done only when the situation calls for it (or example, taking a pain medication only when having pain and not without pain).
  • PCL: Posterior cruciate ligament.
  • PD: Progressive disease. Patients at risk of developing progressive disease of the kidneys include those with proteinuria or hematuria.
    PERRLA: Pupils equal, round, and reactive to light and accommodation.
    PFT: Pulmonary function test. A test to evaluate the how well the lungs are functioning.
  • PERRLA: Pupils equal, round, and reactive to light and accommodation.
  • Plt: Platelets, one of the blood forming elements along with the white and red blood cells.
  • PMI: Point of maximum impulse of the heart when felt during examination, as in beats against the chest.
  • PMS: Premenstrual syndrome
  • PT: Physical therapy
  • PTH: Parathyroid hormone
  • PTSD: Post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • PUD: Peptic ulcer disease. A type of ulcer of the stomach.

Q - Medical abbreviations

  • q.d.: Each day. As in taking a medicine daily.
  • q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
  • q2h: Every 2 hours. As in taking a medicine every 2 hours.
  • q3h: Every 3 hours. As in taking a medicine every 3 hours.
  • qAM: Each morning. As in taking a medicine each morning.
  • qhs: At each bedtime. As in taking a medicine each bedtime.
  • qod: Every other day. As in taking a medicine every other day.
  • qPM: Each evening. As in taking a medicine each evening.

R - Medical abbreviations

  • RA: Rheumatoid arthritis. A type of joint disease.
  • RDS: Respiratory distress syndrome
  • R/O: Rule out. Doctors frequently will rule out various possible diagnoses when figuring out the correct diagnosis.
  • REB: Rebound, as in rebound tenderness of the abdomen when pushed in and then released.
  • RLQ: Right lower quadrant. The appendix is located in the RLQ of the abdomen.
  • ROS: Review of systems. An overall review concerns relating to the organ systems, such as the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurologic systems.
  • RUQ: Right upper quadrant. The liver is located in the RUQ of the abdomen.

S - Medical abbreviations

  • s/p: Status post. For example, a person who had a knee operation would be s/p a knee operation.
  • SAD: Season affective disorder. A type of depression that occurs during the winter months when there is little light.
  • SOB: Shortness of breath.
  • SQ: Subcutaneous. This is a typical notation when noting or ordering an injection (shot) given into the fatty tissue under the skin, such as with insulin for diabetes mellitus.

T - Medical abbreviations

  • T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
  • T&A: Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy
  • t.i.d.: Three times daily. As in taking a medicine three times daily.
  • tab: Tablet
  • TAH: Total abdominal hysterectomy
  • TAH: Total abdominal hysterectomy. A type of surgery to remove a woman’s uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
  • THR: Total hip replacement
  • TKR: Total knee replacement
  • TMJ: Tempomandibular joint

U - Medical abbreviations

  • UA or u/a: Urinalysis. A UA is a typical part of a comprehensive physical examination.
  • U or u**: Unit. Mistaken as the number 0 or 4, causing a 10-fold overdose or greater (for example, 4U seen as "40" or 4u seen as "44"); mistaken as "cc" so the dose is given in volume instead of units (for example, 4u seen as 4cc).
  • ULN: Upper limits of normal
  • URI: Upper respiratory infection, such as sinusitis or the common cold
  • ut dict: As directed. As in taking a medicine according to the instructions that the health care professional gave in the office or in the past
  • UTI: Urinary tract infection

V - Medical abbreviations

  • VSS: Vital signs are stable. This notation means that from the standpoint of the temperature, blood pressure, and pulse, the patient is doing well.

W - Medical abbreviations

  • Wt: Weight. Body weight is often recorded as part of the physical examination.

X - Medical abbreviations

  • XRT: Radiotherapy (external). A type of treatment that uses radiation.

**These Medical Abbreviations are included on TJC's "minimum list" of dangerous Medical Abbreviations, acronyms and symbols that must be included on an organization's "Do Not Use" list, effective January 1, 2004. Visit www.jointcommission.org for more information about this TJC requirement.

REFERENCES:

Cancerindex.org. "Medical Terminology for Cancer." Updated: Feb 01, 2014.
<http://www.cancerindex.org/medterm/medtm15.htm>

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "Acronym List."
<https://www.cms.gov/apps/acronyms/listall.asp?Letter=ALL>

ConsumerMedSafety.org. "Unsafe Medical Abbreviations." 2015.
<http://www.consumermedsafety.org/tools-and-resources/medication-safety-tools-and-resources/know-your-medicine/unsafe-medical-abbreviations>

Columbia University. "Pediatric Dentistry Approved Abbreviations."
<http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/dental/d7710/files/abbreviations.html>

Flanders University; School of Nursing and Midwifery. "Clinical communication."
<http://nursing.flinders.edu.au/students/studyaids/clinicalcommunication/page_glossary.php?id=13>

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Pidala, J., et al. "Graft-vs-host disease following allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation." Cancer Control. 2011 Oct;18(4):268-76.
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21976245>

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Reviewed on 11/8/2017
References
**These Medical Abbreviations are included on TJC's "minimum list" of dangerous Medical Abbreviations, acronyms and symbols that must be included on an organization's "Do Not Use" list, effective January 1, 2004. Visit www.jointcommission.org for more information about this TJC requirement.

REFERENCES:

Cancerindex.org. "Medical Terminology for Cancer." Updated: Feb 01, 2014.
<http://www.cancerindex.org/medterm/medtm15.htm>

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "Acronym List."
<https://www.cms.gov/apps/acronyms/listall.asp?Letter=ALL>

ConsumerMedSafety.org. "Unsafe Medical Abbreviations." 2015.
<http://www.consumermedsafety.org/tools-and-resources/medication-safety-tools-and-resources/know-your-medicine/unsafe-medical-abbreviations>

Columbia University. "Pediatric Dentistry Approved Abbreviations."
<http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/dental/d7710/files/abbreviations.html>

Flanders University; School of Nursing and Midwifery. "Clinical communication."
<http://nursing.flinders.edu.au/students/studyaids/clinicalcommunication/page_glossary.php?id=13>

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Pidala, J., et al. "Graft-vs-host disease following allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation." Cancer Control. 2011 Oct;18(4):268-76.
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21976245>

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