Deciphering Medical Jargon

Excerpt from “Your ER Survival Guide” written by Doc Handal (available estore)

Like any other area of work, the ER has its own language, often comprised of abbreviations used to save time and space—something like texting.  For example, saying someone is “SOB” does not mean the same as it does in the street:  “SOB” in the medical world stands for short of breath.  As part of your inside view of the ER, I’ve put together a list of common terms you might hear around the ER.

ABG (Arterial Blood Gas)- a blood test to measure your exact blood oxygen and other critical values

AMA (Against Medical Advice)- leaving the hospital against the advice of your physician and without a discharge order.

Angina Pectoris -chest pain from heart disease

AOB (Alcohol on Breath)

Block – refers to injecting a nerve to stop it from transmitting impulses, most commonly pain

BP – blood pressure

CABG – (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft)- open heart surgery- An operation in which a piece of vein or artery is used to bypass a blockage in a coronary artery; performed to prevent myocardial infarction and relieve angina pectoris.

CAD (Coronary Artery Disease) – Atherosclerosis (hardening) of the arteries to the heart

CATH (Catheterization )-passing a catheter into arteries to see if there is narrowing, commonly used to study the heart

CHF (Congestive Heart Failure)-condition where the heart is unable to pump efficiently, resulting in fluid retention in the tissues and shortness of breath

Cocktail – multiple medications given together to have an improved effect

CODE – refers to resuscitation attempts to restore breathing and blood circulation

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – emphysema or chronic bronchitis

CT– pronounced “cat”, referring to an x-ray study that looks inside the body as cross-sectional images

CVA  (Cerebral Vascular Accident)- a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in around your brain, also referred to as “stroke”

DOA (Dead on Arrival) used when no resuscitative effort is made due to state of the body

DNAR (Do Not Attempt Resuscitation) –advance written directive regarding wishes should your heart stop. A form that varies from state to state.

ECG/EKG (electrocardiogram) – a test that measures and shows the electrical activity of the heart muscle

EMS (Emergency Medical Services) – collectively refers to ambulance response system, including paramedics and EMTs

ETOH – usually used to refer to alcohol use or intoxication

FOS (Full of Stool) – arrived at as a finding when exam or X-ray reveals presence of a large amount of stool in colon

HBP (High Blood Pressure) – elevated reading for age or your ‘normal’

Hook up – attach equipment devices to patient to monitor BP, oxygen and heart

ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) – a device under the skin with a wire in the heart that can sense and deliver electrical energy as needed to keep the heart in normal rhythm

ICU (Intensive Care Unit – floor in the hospital for critical patients with very close monitoring

I&D (incision & drainage) – procedure to open and clean a collection of pus

IM (intramuscular)-refers to an injection given into the muscle

IV (intravenous,) –a way to give you medication, fluid or blood through your vein  ”.

KVO (Keep Vein Open) – refers to a flow rate to ‘run’ IV fluids into your vein, usually a very slow rate

MI (Myocardial Infarction or heart attack), meaning the heart muscle is dying

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – using a magnetic device to provide a detailed view of  a particular area inside the body

NG Tube(Nasogastric Tube) – tube passed inserted through your nose into your stomach

MVA – motor vehicle accident

NPO – nothing by mouth, means you can’t eat or drink anything

O2 (oxygen) –  given through plastic tubing in your nostrils or through a face mask, dialed to percentage concentration

OD (Oculus Dexter) – right eye

OS (Oculus Sinister) – left eye

OU (Oculi Unitio) – both eyes

PA (Physician’s Assistant)

PATCH – EMS personnel communicating with the hospital while en route

PCP – (Personal Care Physician)

PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) – shows how organs and tissues  are functioning—ex. blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism

PO – by mouth

PUSH – refers to injecting a medication rapidly into a vein

ROM (Range of Motion) – refers to joint movement in degrees

RN (Registered Nurse)

RN-P (Registered Nurse Practitioner)

SCAN – imaging studies, most commonly an MRI, CT or  PET

SOB – short(ness) of breath

SQ (subcutaneous) – injection given just under the skin

SVN (breathing volume nebulizer) – a ‘machine’ to inhale medication and deliver it to your lungs, sometimes called a breathing treatment

Strip – an ECG tracing of your heart activity off a monitor

T-boned-a motor vehicle collision involving the sides of the motor vehicle

TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) – temporary loss of speech or limb function, often referred to as a “mini stroke” that may herald a stroke

UA (Urine Analysis) – a lab test to exam urine for infection or chemical abnormalities

UDS (Ultrasound Doppler Sonogram) – a study that uses differences in sound wave transmission to visualize internal structures.


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