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Nursing Abbreviations and Acronyms: Guide to Medical Terminology

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By Matt Vera BSN, R.N.

Ever wondered how healthcare professionals communicate complex information so efficiently? Dive into the world of medical abbreviations and acronyms—essential tools that transform lengthy terms like “complete blood count” into simple “CBC,” ensuring clarity and speed in patient care.

Table of Contents

Medical and Nursing Terminologies

Healthcare professionals, including nurses and doctors, use a specialized set of vocabulary to ensure precise and efficient communication. These terms, often abbreviations or acronyms, are essential for clear documentation and effective patient care.

When working within the medical and nursing fields, it’s important to distinguish between abbreviations and acronyms, as they are key components of healthcare communication.

Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases. For example, “vol” is an abbreviation for “volume.” These shortened forms are used to save time and space when writing or speaking about common terms and are prevalent in medical documentation.

Acronyms, on the other hand, are words created from the initial letters of each major part of a compound term. For instance, “CBC” stands for “complete blood count.” Acronyms streamline communication by condensing complex medical terms into more manageable and recognizable forms.

Precautions

Medical abbreviations and acronyms are essential for efficient communication within healthcare settings. However, their meanings can vary significantly between different agencies, hospitals, and regions. To prevent miscommunication and ensure patient safety, follow these precautions:

  • Always verify meaning. Always verify the meaning of any unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms with the one who wrote it. Different facilities might use the same abbreviation to mean different things.
  • Reference Facility-Specific Guidelines. Each healthcare facility typically has its own set of approved abbreviations. Familiarize yourself with and reference these guidelines regularly to ensure compliance with local standards.
  • Use Full Terms When in Doubt. If there is any uncertainty about an abbreviation, write out the full term to avoid misinterpretation.
  • Documentation Clarity. When documenting patient information, ensure that the context around the abbreviation is clear. This helps other healthcare providers understand the intended meaning without confusion.
  • Standardize Communication. Encourage the use of standardized abbreviations within your team to reduce variability and enhance communication clarity.

Official “Do Not Use” List

The Joint Commission’s Official “Do Not Use” List aims to enhance patient safety by eliminating the use of dangerous abbreviations, acronyms, symbols, and dose designations that could lead to misinterpretation and medication errors. It applies to handwritten orders and free-text computer entries but not to preprogrammed health IT systems, though organizations are encouraged to eliminate such abbreviations during system upgrades. An exception exists for trailing zeros in specific contexts like lab results. The list was developed following a 2001 Sentinel Event Alert and was formalized in 2004, later integrated into Information Management standards in 2010. By adhering to this list, healthcare professionals can reduce errors and improve patient outcomes.

Do Not UsePotential ProblemUse InsteadExamples
U, u (unit)Mistaken for “0”, “4”, or “cc”Write “unit”Do Not Use: 10u
Use Instead: 10 units
IU (International Unit)Mistaken for IV or “10”Write “International Unit”Do Not Use: 5 IU
Use Instead: 5 International Units
Q.D., QD, q.d., qd (daily)Mistaken for each otherWrite “daily”Do Not Use: QD 5 mg
Use Instead: Daily 5 mg
Q.O.D., QOD, q.o.d, qod (every other day)Period after Q mistaken for “I” and the “O” mistaken for “I”Write “every other day”Do Not Use: QOD 5 mg
Use Instead: Every other day 5 mg
Trailing zero (X.0 mg)Decimal point is missedWrite X mgDo Not Use: 1.0 mg
Use Instead: 1 mg
Lack of leading zero (.X mg)Decimal point is missedWrite 0.X mgDo Not Use: .5 mg
Use Instead: 0.5 mg
MSCan mean morphine sulfate or magnesium sulfateWrite “morphine sulfate” or “magnesium sulfate”Do Not Use: MS 10 mg
Use Instead: Morphine sulfate 10 mg
MSO4 and MgSO4Confused for one anotherWrite “morphine sulfate” or “magnesium sulfateDo Not Use: MSO4 10 mg
Use Instead: Morphine sulfate 10 mg

List of Common Medical and Nursing Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Terminologies

A

TermMeaning
@At
A/GAlbumin/Globulin Ratio
AALAnterior Axillary Line
AAOf each, equal parts
ABGArterial Blood Gases
ABRAbsolute bed rest
Abd.Abdomen
ACBefore eating
ACEAngiotensin Converting Enzyme
ACLAnterior Cruciate Ligament
ACLSAdvanced Cardiac Life Support
ACTHAdrenocorticotropic Hormone
ADAdmitting diagnosis
ADHAntidiuretic Hormone
ADLActivities of Daily Living
Adm.Admission
Ad. Spec.Admission urine specimen
AGAAppropriate for Gestational Age
AIDAcquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
AIAortic Insufficiency
A.K.A.Above Knee Amputation
ALDAlcoholic Liver Disease
ALLAcute Lymphocytic Leukemia
ALPAlkaline Phosphatase
ALTAlanine Transaminase, Alanine Aminotransferase
A.M. or a.m., AM or amMorning
Amb.Ambulation, walking, ambulatory
Amt.Amount
AP or A.P.Appendectomy
Approx.Approximately
APRAbdominoperineal Resection
ARFAcute Renal Failure
ASAAcute Surgical Abdomen
ASFAnterior Decomposition Spinal Fusion
ATNAcute Tubular Necrosis
AUBoth Ears
AVAtrioventricular
AquaWater or H2O

B

AbbreviationMeaning
B/KBelow Knee
B.S.Bachelor of Science
B&B or b&bBowel and Bladder Training
BATBlunt Abdominal Trauma
BIHBilateral Inguinal Hernia
BKABelow Knee Amputation
BMBowel Movement or Breast Milk
b.m. or B.M.Bowel Movement, Feces
BP or B.P.Blood Pressure
BR or br or B.R. or b.r.Bedrest
BRP or B.R.P. or brpBathroom Privileges
BSC or bscBedside Commode
BXBiopsy
bid or B.I.D. or b.i.d.Twice a day

C

TermMeaning
°CCelsius degree (or centigrade)
cWith
CaCancer
CACalcium, Cancer, Carcinoma
CAACrystalline Amino Acids
CABGCoronary Artery Bypass Graft
CADCoronary Artery Disease
CAPDContinuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis
CATComputerized Axial Tomography
CBCComplete Blood Count
CBDCommon Bile Duct
CBDECommon Bile Duct Exploration
CBGCapillary Blood Gas
CBIContinuous Bladder Irrigation
CBSCapillary Blood Sugar
CCChief Complaint
CCKCholecystokinin
CCPDContinuous Cyclic Peritoneal Dialysis
CCUClean Catch Urine or Cardiac Care Unit
CCVCritical Closing Volume
CBRComplete Bed Rest
C/OComplaint of
CO2Carbon Dioxide
CFCystic Fibrosis
CHFCongestive Heart Failure
CHOCarbohydrate
CICardiac Index
CKDChronic Kidney Disease
CLEAContinuous Lumbar Epidural Anesthesia
CLTClinical Laboratory Technician
CMLChronic Myelogenous Leukemia
CNCranial Nerves
CNSCentral Nervous System
COCardiac Output
COMChronic Otitis Media
COPDChronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
CPChest Pain, Cleft Palate
CPDCephalo-Pelvic Disproportion
CPKCreatinine Phosphokinase
CPPCerebral Perfusion Pressure
CPRCardiopulmonary Resuscitation
CRCLCreatinine Clearance
CRFChronic Renal Failure
CRTCapillary Refill Time
CSCentral Supply
CSFCerebrospinal Fluid
CSDCentral Service Department
CSRCentral Supply Room
CTComputerized Tomography
CVACerebral Vascular Accident, Costovertebral Angle
CVPCentral Venous Pressure

D

AbbreviationMeaning
D3Distal Third
D5W5% Dextrose in Water
DATDiet as Tolerated
DC or dcDiscontinue
DICDisseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy
DIHDirect Inguinal Hernia
DKADiabetic Ketoacidosis
DLDirect Laryngoscopy
DMDiabetes Mellitus
DNADeoxyribonucleic Acid
DNRDo Not Resuscitate
DOADead on Arrival
DOEDyspnea on Exertion
DPTDiphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus
DTRDeep Tendon Reflexes
DVTDeep Venous Thrombosis
DXDiagnosis
del. M. or d.r., or DRDelivery Room
Disch or dish or D/CDischarge
D&CDilatation and Curettage
drsg.Dressing

E

AbbreviationMeaning
EAAEssential Amino Acids
EBLEstimated Blood Loss
EBVEpstein-Barr Virus
ECCEExtra Capsular Cataract Extraction
ECFExtracellular Fluid, Extended Care Facility
ECG or EKGElectrocardiogram
ECTElectroconvulsive Therapy
EDCExtensor Digitorum Communis
EDHEpidural Hematoma
EEAEnd-to-End Anastomosis
EELEmergency Exploratory Laparotomy
EEG or E.E.G.Electroencephalogram
EENT or E.E.N.T.Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat
EFADEssential Fatty Acid Deficiency
EGDEsophagogastroduodenoscopy
EMGElectromyogram
EMVEyes, Motor, Verbal Response (Glasgow Coma Scale)
ENTEars, Nose, and Throat
EOMExtraocular Muscles
ER or E.R.Emergency Room
ERCPEndoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography
ESRErythrocyte Sedimentation Rate
ESRDEnd-Stage Renal Disease
ETEndotracheal Tube
ETTEndotracheal Tube
EUAExamination Under Anesthesia

F

AbbreviationMeaning
°FFahrenheit degree
F, FeFemale
FBS or F.B.S.Fasting Blood Sugar
FBEForeign Body Extraction
FCUFlexor Carpi Ulnaris
FDAFood & Drug Administration
FDPFlexor Digitorum Profundus
FDSFlexor Digitorum Superficialis
FESSFunctional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery
FEVForced Expiratory Volume
FFPFresh Frozen Plasma
FIAFistula in Ano
FNPFamily Nurse Practitioner
FTSGFull Thickness Skin Grafting
ftFoot
FxFracture
Fx urineFractional urine
FF or F.F.Forced Feeding or Forced Fluids

G

AbbreviationMeaning
galGallon
GBGallbladder
GCGonorrhea
GCSGlasgow Coma Scale
GERDGastroesophageal Reflux Disease
GETAGeneral Endotracheal Anesthesia
GFRGlomerular Filtration Rate
GI or G.I.Gastrointestinal
gtOne drop
gttTwo or more drops
GTT or G.T.T.Glucose Tolerance Test
GU or G.U.Genitourinary
Gyn. or G.Y.N.Gynecology
GSWGunshot Wound

H

AbbreviationMeaning
H2OWater or Aqua
HOBHead of Bed
hrHour
HS or hsBedtime or Hour of Sleep
htHeight
hyperAbove or High
hypoBelow or Low
H.W.B. or hwb or HWBHot Water Bottle
HBHemoglobin
HBPHigh Blood Pressure
HCGHuman Chorionic Gonadotropin
HCO3Bicarbonate
HCTHematocrit
HDHemodialysis
HDLHigh Density Lipoprotein
HEENTHead, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat
HPTHemoperitoneum

I

AbbreviationMeaning
I&O or I.&O.Intake and Output
I&DIncision & Drainage
IBGIliac Bone Graft
ICU or I.C.U.Intensive Care Unit
ICSIntercostal Space
IIHIndirect Inguinal Hernia
IJIntrajugular
IOCIntraoperative Cholangiogram
IrrIrregular
Isol. or isolIsolation
IV or I.V.Intravenous

J

AbbreviationMeaning
JVDJugular Venous Distension
JVPJugular Venous Pressure

K

AbbreviationMeaning
KPotassium
KUBKidneys, Ureters, Bladder

L

AbbreviationMeaning
LLiter
Lab. or labLaboratory
lbPound
LDHLactate Dehydrogenase
LELower Extremity
LFTLiver Function Test
LLQLeft Lower Quadrant
LOCLevel of Consciousness
LPLumbar Puncture
LPNLicensed Practical Nurse
LUQLeft Upper Quadrant
LVN or L.V.N.Licensed Vocational Nurse

M

AbbreviationMeaning
MMale
MatMaternity
MD or M.D.Medical Doctor
MeasMeasure
mecMeconium
medMedicine
minMinute
mlMilliliter
Mn or mn or M/nMidnight
MCVMean Corpuscular Volume
MEMyocardial Infarction
MRIMagnetic Resonance Imaging
MSMultiple Sclerosis
MSUMidstream Urine
MTMedical Technologist

N

AbbreviationMeaning
N.A. or N/ANursing Aide or Nursing Assistant
NaSodium
NADNo Acute Distress
n/g tube or ng. tube or N.G.T.Nasogastric Tube
noctAt Night
NPNeuropsychiatric or Nursing Procedure
NPO or N.P.O.Nothing by Mouth
nsyNursery
NICUNeonatal Intensive Care Unit
NKANo Known Allergies
NSNormal Saline
NSRNormal Sinus Rhythm
NTGNitroglycerin
N/VNausea/Vomiting

O

AbbreviationMeaning
O2Oxygen
OB or O.B.Obstetrics
Obt or obt.Obtained
OJ or O.J.Orange Juice
Orb.Orderly
OOB or O.O.B.Out of Bed
OPD or O.P.D.Outpatient Department
OR or O.R.Operating Room
OrthoOrthopedics
OT or O.T.Occupational Therapy or Oral Temperature
oz.Ounce

P

AbbreviationMeaning
PAR or P.A.R.Postanesthesia Room
PcAfter Meals
Ped or PedsPediatrics
PerBy, Through
p.m. or P.M., pm or PMAfternoon
PMC or P.M.C.Post Mortem Care
PN or P.N.Pneumonia
poBy Mouth
post or pAfter
postop or post opPostoperative
post op specAfter Surgery Urine Specimen
PPPostpartum (After Delivery)
PPBSPostprandial Blood Sugar
preBefore
prn or p.r.n.Whenever Necessary, When Required
preop or pre opBefore Surgery
pre op specUrine Specimen Before Surgery
prepPrepare the Patient for Surgery by Shaving the Skin
Pt or ptPatient; Pint
PT or P.T.Physical Therapy

Q

AbbreviationMeaning
qEvery
qdEvery day
qhEvery hour
q2hEvery 2 hours
q3hEvery 3 hours
q4hEvery 4 hours
QHS or qhsEvery night at bedtime/hour of sleep
qid or Q.I.D.Four times a day
qam or q am or q.a.m.Every morning
qod or Q.O.D.Every other day
qsQuantity sufficient, as much as required
qtQuart

R

AbbreviationMeaning
r or RRectal
Rm or rmRoom
RN or R.N.Registered Nurse
Rom or R.O.M.Range of Motion
RR or R Rm.Recovery Room
RxPrescription or treatment ordered by a physician

S

AbbreviationMeaning
s or ?Without
S&ASugar and Acetone
S&A test or S.& A. testSugar and Acetone Test
S&K or S.& K. testSugar and Ketone Test
SOBShortness of Breath
sosWhenever emergency arises; only if necessary
SPDSpecial Purchasing Department

T

AbbreviationMeaning
tidThree Times a Day
TLCTender Loving Care
TPRTemperature, Pulse, Respiration

U

AbbreviationMeaning
U/AUrinalysis
UEUpper Extremity
URIUpper Respiratory Infection
UTIUrinary Tract Infection

V

AbbreviationMeaning
VDRLTest for Syphilis
VS or V.S.Vital Signs

W

AbbreviationMeaning
WBCWhite Blood Count
WOFWatch out for (precaution)
wtWeight

XYZ

AbbreviationMeaning
XRX-Ray
YTDYear to Date
ZnZinc

These terminologies can vary between different agencies and hospitals. This list serves only as a general reference for nurses. Always consult your hospital manual or institutional guidelines for the most accurate and specific information.

Matt Vera, a registered nurse since 2009, leverages his experiences as a former student struggling with complex nursing topics to help aspiring nurses as a full-time writer and editor for Nurseslabs, simplifying the learning process, breaking down complicated subjects, and finding innovative ways to assist students in reaching their full potential as future healthcare providers.

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