Arts & Entertainment
Print storySubscribe to the Times


Acronym antidote

If your doctor's medical shorthand has you drowning in an alphabetical soup of abbreviations and acronyms, this list can spell relief.

Published May 25, 2004

  ABC Rx
[Times illustration: Teresanne Cossetta]

The proverb that a picture is worth a thousand words is often true. It's too bad we can't count on our doctors to draw sketches of maladies and treatments.

Many physicians use abbreviations instead, but if you don't know the code, the meanings may be more obscure than the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians.

In this rushed era of managed medical care, the scribbling of professionals may result in patients' sketchy understanding of what's wrong with and how often they're supposed to take a certain prescription.

"Patients shouldn't assume anything about what the doctor tells them," including the meaning of abbreviations or acronyms, says Ruth Huntley Bahr, an assistant professor of communication at the University of South Florida's Institute on Aging.

She's optimistic about the American Medical Association's new national program to educate physicians about ways to explain to their patients what's wrong and what can be done about it.

So if you don't get it, get the doctors to spell it out. Here is an A-to-Z list of common medical abbreviations defined. If they don't seem obvious, you aren't alone.

ADD/ADHD: Attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Poor or short attention span and impulsiveness, usually in children but also in some adults.

ALS: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; often called Lou Gehrig's disease because it was brought to popular attention when the legendary New York Yankee first baseman developed it. A progressive nerve disorder that begins with weakness in the hands or feet.

AP: (Latin: ante partum). Before childbirth.

ap: Same abbreviation with lowercase letters. (Latin: ante prandium.) Before dinner.

Bid: (Latin: Bis en die.) Twice each day.

CT Scan: Also called CAT Scan. Short for computed tomography. Computer-enhanced X-rays to detect abnormalities in various parts of the body.

CBC: Complete blood count. The most commonly performed blood test. It's a basic evaluation of the red and white blood cells that is performed in less than one minute on a small drop of blood.

COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This group of breathing ailments includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

DNR: Do not resuscitate. A medical order initiated by the patient or family member and placed in the medical records, it forestalls cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

ED: Erectile dysfunction. Male impotence, or the inability to achieve an erection. It becomes more common with age. About 75 percent of men over 80 are affected. Causes include poor blood circulation, neurologic damage, hormonal disturbances and psychological issues, such as depression.

FDA: Food and Drug Administration. The federal agency that evaluates drugs for safety and effectiveness, then decides whether they require a doctor's prescription. Sometimes, after certain prescription drugs achieve years of good safety records, the FDA approves them for sale without a doctor's order.

GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease. A condition in which stomach acid and enzymes flow backward from the stomach into the esophagus, causing inflammation and pain. One symptom is heartburn, which may be accompanied by regurgitation of stomach contents.

GI Series: Gastrointestinal tests to diagnose digestive system problems. Usually it involves a barium enema or drinking a barium "milkshake," followed by a series of X-rays.

HDL: High-density lipoproteins. This is the "good" cholesterol, which removes potential clogging elements from body tissues and transports it to the liver.

HRT: Hormone replacement therapy. Pills containing estrogen, sometimes combined with a progestin, used to treat symptoms of menopause. Previously it was thought to guard against heart disease and certain cancers.

IBS: Irritable bowel syndrome. A digestive disorder that can cause abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation.

ICU: Intensive Care Unit. The hospital area for patients who must be monitored around the clock.

IVF: In-vitro (or test tube) fertilization. Stimulating the ovaries, retrieving released eggs, fertilizing them and growing the resulting embryos in a laboratory.

JODM: Juvenile onset diabetes mellitus. More commonly known as Type 1 diabetes, it is the form of the disorder in which blood sugar levels are too high because the pancreas produces little or no insulin. This kind of diabetes usually begins in childhood or early adulthood.

KUB: Kidneys, ureters, bladder. Your urologist is comfortable with this one, even if you aren't.

LDL: Low-density lipoproteins are the blood's "bad" cholesterol, the kind that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Mg: Milligram.

npo: (Latin: nil peros.) Nothing by mouth.

NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. (Pronounced "en-SAYDS.) These include aspirin and ibuprofen. They reduce pain, inflammation and fever.

O.D.: (Latin: Oculus dexter.) Right eye.

O.S.: (Latin: Oculus sinister.) Left eye.

OTC: Over the counter. This means a drug can be purchased without a prescription.

P: Post, or after.

PMS: Premenstrual syndrome. A variety of physical and psychological symptoms that occur in the days before a menstrual period begins.

qd: (Latin: quaque die.) Every day.

qid: (Latin: quarter in die.) Four times a day.

RAST: Radioallergosorbent test. A blood test for allergies to determine the cause of a skin rash when the condition is widespread.

SSRI: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. A class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and several others.

STAT: (Latin: statim.) Immediately.

tid: (Latin: ter in die.) Three times a day.

Ut dict: (Latin: ut dictum.) As directed.

VDRL: Venereal Disease Research Laboratory test. A discreet abbreviation to direct a patient to a blood exam for sexually transmitted diseases.

W: Weight.

WNL: Within normal limits.

XR: Extended release medications. Also called TR or timed release.

YO: Years old.

ZE: Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a condition that causes the stomach to produce too much acid. It usually results in ulcers.

Sources: The Merck Manual of Medical Terms,, and MLANET.

Robert Johnson is a freelance writer in Orlando.

[Last modified May 24, 2004, 14:07:12]

Floridian headlines

  • 'Idol' is TV, not reality
  • In a lagging bit of Americana, a revival
  • She knows them by heart

  • Pulse
  • Acronym antidote
  • Healthline
  • leaderboard ad here


    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111