Helpful Medical Abbreviations


Helpful Medical Abbreviations 

On the message boards, our Facebook Fan Page, reading our main site/ online magazine, or in day to day conversations, you may find that people use many abbreviations when talking about a diagnosis, a medication or other phrases. This alphabetical list might help you. Please comment below if you have anything to be added.

ADs = antidepressants

ADL = Activities of Daily Living

AI = Autoimmune

AIH = Autoimmune Hepatitis

AITD = Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

ASPS = Advanced Sleep-Phase Syndrome

Bx = Biopsy

CAPD = Central Auditory Processing Disorder

CC = Chief Complaint

CD = Chrohn’s Disease

CLD = Celiac’s Disease

CFS/CFIDS/ME = Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myaligic Encephalomyetlitis

CI = Chronic Illness

CKD = Chronic Kidney Disease

COPD = Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Costo = Costochondritis
CP = Cerebral Palsy
CPAP – a breathing machine for people with apnea
CRD – Circadian Rhythm Disorder
CRPS = complex regional pain syndrome
CT (or CAT) scan = Computerized (Axial) Tomography

DC = Discontinue (as in a medication)
DJD = Degenerative Joint Disease or Osteoarthritis

DMARD = Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug
DSPS / DSPD – Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (or, as recently renamed, Disorder)
dx = diagnosis

EBV/CEBV = Epstein Barr Virus or Chronic Epstein Barr Virus
EDS – Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
EEG = Electroencephalogram
ESRD = End Stage Renal Disease (kidney failure)
FM/FMS/Fibro = Fibromyalgia Syndrome
fMRI = Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
GAD = general anxiety disorder
GERD = Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

GI = Gastrointenstinal (usually referring to the tract itself or gastroenterologist)
GP = gastroparesis

HMD = Hashimoto’s Disease
HD = Hemodialysis

HMS = Hypermobility Syndrome
Hx – Medical history
Hydro = Hydrocephalus
IAIYH = It’s All in Your Head
IBD = Inflammatory Bowel Disease, eg. UC or Crohns
IBS = irritable bowel syndrome
INH = isoniazid (Isonicotinyl hydrazine), an antibiotic used to treat TB

JRA/JIA = Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
MCTD = Multiple Connective Tissue Disease
ME or CFS/CFIDS = Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Meni = Meniere’s disease

Meth = Methotrexate (a medication)
MPS = Myofascial Pain Syndrome
MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging/MRI scan
MS = Multiple Sclerosis
MVP = Mitral Valve Prolapse
Nephro = Nephrologist (kidney doctor)
NSAIDS = Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Neuro = Neurosurgeon/Neurologist
OA/DJD = Osteoarthritis OR Degenerative Joint Disease
OCD = obessive-compulsive disorder
PA = Psoriatic Arthritis
PBC = Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
PET [scan] = Positron Emission Tomography
PKD = Polycystic Kidney Disease
POTS = Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia
PD = Peritoneal Dialysis
PPD = Post-partum Depression
Pred = Prednisone, a steroid used to treat many AI illnesses
PRN = as needed (with meds; from Latin “pro re nata.”)
PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
QoL = Quality of Life
RA = Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumy = rheumatologist
RLS = Restless Leg Syndrome
RSD = Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Amplified Pain Syndrome or Amplified Reflex Dystrophy or complex regional pain syndrome
rx = prescription
Sclero = Scleroderma
SLE = Sytemic Lupus Erythematosus/Lupus
SMS = Smith-Magenis Syndrome
SS = Sjogren’s Syndrome
SSc = Systemic Sclerosis
SVS Slit Ventricle Syndrome
TB = Pulmonary Tuberculosis
TMJ = Temporo-Mandibular Joint (disorder)
TP = Tender Point
TrP = Myofascial Trigger Point
UC = Ulcerative Colitis
UCTD = Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease
UTI = Urinary Tract Infection
VP = Ventricular-Peritoneal [shunt]
VV = Vulvodynia

*list updated 8/2010

This list is provided for informational purposes only. Of course if you are seeking medical advice- it is always best to speak with your doctor.

  • Christle Waugh

    My Dr threw one at me I hadn’t heard before.. D.I.D. Dissociative identity disorder.. I told her by the time they stop diagnosing me,I’ll have a whole new alphabet! I hate being just a list of letters n a medical file…but at least I do have good days in there from time to time 🙂

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  • Amy

    CAPD can also be Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis. Instead of being hooked to a dialysis machine, patients have a catheter (Tenckhoff was the last one I knew of) inserted in their bellies. They warm a large bag of dialysate, then attach it to the catheter & let it flow in over, usually, about 15 min. They then seal the empty bag for later & cap the catheter & let the fluid stay in their bellies for 4-6 hours. During this time, waste material is pulled across the lining of the abdominal cavity, the peritoneum, into the dialysate. They then attach the empty bag, let the fluid out, seal it, & instill another one. Many times, people who have big bellies are not fat, but do this kind of dialysis so they have more freedom to move around. Not all dialysis patients can use this type of dialysis.

    PCOS: Poly-Cystic ovarian syndrome, a disease that runs in families, multiple cysts on the ovaries interfere with ovulation (& thus fertility), cause very painful periods, & become progressively worse. Women with this have very limited periods of fertility; often, the ovaries have to be removed; uterine fibroids often occur with this. They can be treated with steroids or lupron. Pain is almost constant.

    AF: atrial fibrillation. The heart has 2 upper chambers (the atria) & 2 lower chambers (ventricles). Fibrillation means basically quivering. In AF, blood doesn’t actively move into the ventricles, some goes through via gravity. Blood that stands still clots, & clots can move & cause problems, so patients whose AF can’t be fixed need blood thinners.

    VF: Ventricular fibrillation. This is what usually happens when someone has a heart attack. It is fatal unless CPR compressions are started & then a defibrillator is used.

    MVP: Mitral valve prolapse. Mitral valve sags & blood goes back up into the atria when the heart pumps, instead of all of it going to the lungs & body. Repairs don’t always require open heart surgery all the time.

    AAA: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. The aorta is the main blood vessel in the body. An aneurysm is a weak spot in a blood vessel (usually an artery) wall. Usually a disease of older people, it can be controlled by keeping the blood pressure controlled tightly for a while, but will always require surgery. The last I knew, they used a Dacron sleeve to strengthen the blood vessel wall. Without the strengthening, the weakness grows worse, blood starts to leak out of the aorta, & eventually it will rupture if not treated. In many old people, the main symptom is vague discomfort in the area of the stomach. If the person’s thin enough &/or you have sensitive fingers, you may be able to feel a pulsation there that does not belong.

    AVM: Arteriovenous malformation. Usually it is a cluster of arteries & veins that are weak in spots & are tortuous (wickedly twisted) & thus reduce blood flow. They can also rupture but usually leak. The only treatments are to remove the malformation & reconnect the blood vessels or, in cases where the malformation is not in a critical area, clamp it off (the lack of blood flow to the malformation makes it die off & be reabsorbed by the body as waste to excrete over time.

    ASD/VSD: Atrial or ventricular septal defect. More serious is the VSD usually, although where they are pinhole small, surgery may not be needed. The septum in the heart is a wall between the left & right atria or left & right ventricles. Since the right side of the heart deals with “used” blood that has CO2 (carbon dioxide) in it & the left side deals with freshly oxygenated blood, the defect mixes the 2 & thus the blood going to the body has more CO2 & less O2 (oxygen) than normal. Large ones require open heart surgery; a patch is put on the hole. Smaller ones can sometimes be repaired with MIS (minimally invasive surgery).

    CKD: chronic kidney disease, a gradual weakening of kidney function, most often caused by high blood pressure but also caused by some autoimmune diseases & by uncontrolled diabetes. It will eventually lead to kidney failure & the need for dialysis/transplant. NOTE: In experiments, adult stem cells taken from the patient’s own body have successfully reversed some to most CKD. Embryonic stem cells, which can easily differentiate into cancer as well as beneficial cells, have to date not been able to benefit patients with CKD.

    VT: Ventricular tachycardia. A precursor to VF, it can be reversed by medication if caught early enough.

    SN: SInus node, the heart’s natural pacemaker.

    AVN: Atrio-Ventricular node, a back-up to the heart’s SN, but can’t be relied upon for long as it has a slower rate & will make you feel weaker.

    VN & Bundle of HIS: Ventricular node, the 2nd backup pacemaker, but won’t function for long. It is at the head of a bundle of electrical conductive tissue that conducts the impulse of the pacemaker through the ventricles.

    AV block: Atrio-Ventricular block, a condition where conduction of the sinus node is blocked. Usually requires a pacemaker. Types are type I (1st degree), which is benign but should be watched; type II ( 2nd degree) Mobitz, which generally requires a pacemaker or type II Wenckebach, which is benign but must be watched; & type III or 3rd degree or complete heart block, which requires immediate temporary or external pacemaker & implantation of a permanent pacemaker as soon as possible. Type II usually means the sinus node isn’t working at all, just the AV or junctional (because it’s at the junction of the atria & ventricles) node; with Wenckebach, there is enough signal but not with Mobitz. Type III means the only pacemaker working in the heart is the ventricular node. This condition will deteriorate rapidly into VT then VF. Pacemakers come in various types, but they all now have an internal defibrillator to jump start the heart if VT or VF are detected. For patients whose QoL would be improved by a pacemaker, but who have incurable conditions & don’t want resuscitation, it’s important to communicate with the cardiologist that the defibrillator function should be turned off. There are also pacemakers that only have 1 lead, to the left ventricle, but if the person has AF & CHF (Congestive Heart Failure), their QoL can be significantly improved by a 4 lead pacemaker that paces both atria & both ventricles, improving circulation in the heart. BTW, pacemaker insertion requires that you limit weight bearing for a couple weeks, & that you don’t lift your arm above your shoulder for whatever length of time the doctor advises. This allows the pacemaker to stablilize inside the body.

    SSS or tachy-brady syndrome: A condition where the heart goes in & out of heart block, causing tachycardia (rapid heart rate) or bradycardia (slow heart rate). Detection of the syndrome requires a Holter (not halter; it’s named for the guy who invented it), which you wear for 24, 48, or more hours. You keep a diary of when you feel weak or short of breath & what you were doing at the time. The holter records a basic EKG (ECG) over time & the doctor determines how serious the condition is. Control by medication is generally preferred, but people with this syndrome will eventually end up with a pacemaker.

    Since I think I’ve probably run out of room, I’ll put more in later.

  • LindaA

    What about Benign Positional Vertigo? BPV
    Essential Tremors? ET

  • mima

    for the UK lot there’s GORD, which is the same as GERD, but we spell it oesophageal.

  • Great list! As someone said above, PCOS for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

  • Vickie Foster

    Wonderful and many thanks! I will be saving this one.

  • Jenn

    I just wanted to add,
    PSC (Primary Sclerosing Colangitis), a liver disease related to AIH and PBC (Primary Biliary Cirrhosis)…and
    AS (Ankylosing Spondylitis) which I have along with my CD…

  • Tracy

    There’s also PN(E) Pudendal Neuralgia (Entrapment). That’s my acronym.

  • Brandy Penn

    Here are some abbreviations to help you read a prescription:

    sig- how to take
    dispense: how many to fill in prescription
    ad lib – freely, as needed
    bid – twice a day
    prn – as needed
    q – every
    q3h – every 3 hours
    q4h – every 4 hours
    qd – every day
    qid – four times a day
    qod – every other day
    tid – three times a day
    ac – before meals
    hs – at bedtime
    int – between meals
    pc – after meals
    caps – capsule
    gtt – drops
    i, ii, iii, or iiii , roman numerals- the number of doses (1, 2, 3, or 4)
    mg – milligrams
    ml – milliliters
    ss – one half
    tabs – tablets
    tbsp – tablespoon (15ml)
    tsp – teaspoon (5ml)
    ad – right ear
    al – left ear
    c or o – with
    od – right eye
    os – left eye
    ou – both eyes
    po – by mouth
    s or ø – without
    sl – sublingual
    top – apply topically

  • Chris

    Not sure if this was listed but PCN is penicillin.

  • Christina

    Just wanted to note that Methotrexate is usually abbreviated as MTX. Sadly, a lot of people see “Meth” and automatically assume it means Methamphetamines (though it’s sad that our society has “gone there”, isn’t it??)

  • CU- Chronic Urticaria
    CIU-Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria

  • Kelly

    I saw PRN, but I didn’t see BID or QID. All are in reference to medications. BID is twice daily, QID is 4 times a day.

    It’s really important that you are able to read your prescription. Don’t just let the physician write it out & walk out of the room – ask him/her about the medication, the side effects, how often you’re to take it and if you’re to take it with or without food. I carry a very small notepad with me (Hallmark & Barnes & Noble carry some really pretty ones that have a metal case and come with a pen). I use this to write down any instructions my doctors give me, including info on any prescriptions. When I get my prescription filled, I then ask the pharmacist the same questions I asked my physician.

  • Alene

    Here’s a doozy for you all. There is PLS for primary lateral sclerosis; SP for spastic paraparesis; and HSP for hereditary spastic paresis. They are all somewhat related, attack everyone differently, at different ages, and progress at different rates. Many are diagnosed at first with ALS, CP, MS, herniated disks and other back issues, etc. They are not well-known diseases and very hard to diagnose. My niece, in her 3rd year of residency at a top hospital in Boston, has never heard of it. Surprise.

  • Mindy

    Looking at that list, it’s crazy to think about the number of those things that affect me! Another one to add is PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).

  • So helpful, thanks!

  • Cheri

    Amy, thanks for so much great info! Thanks, too, for the balloon tip, I think I can use that. This is a great site and I’m so glad I ‘stumbled’ upon it.

  • Karleen

    Could you add…

    IIH – Idiopathic Intracranial hypertension
    BIH -Benign Intracranial Hypertension
    PTC- Pseudotumor Cerebri

    All the same thing…which I have…

    Idiopathic Intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a serious neurological condition in which high cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure within the skull causes unbearable headaches, swelling of the optic nerves (papilloedema) and can result in loss of vision or blindness. IIH was formerly known as BIH (Benign Intracranial Hypertension) although this name is falling out of use now as the condition can cause permanent visual loss and therefore is certainly not harmless or benign, as sufferers who live with it’s effects daily would agree. It’s also sometimes known as pseudotumor cerebri (PTC) as there are some of the signs and symptoms of a brain tumour without a tumour being present(pseudo meaning false). The cause of IIH is unknown – idiopathic means “of unknown cause”. IIH is a rare condition affecting about one or two in every 100,000 people, most of them women of childbearing age, but men and children can also be affected.

  • This is so helpful. But It would also be nice to know the number codes the doctor’s that the doctor’s use, that so you don’t know what you have.

  • Rich

    CPAP is actually Continuous Positive Air Pressure – usually delivered by a machine

  • Amy

    CFS is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but CFIDS is Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome

  • Shae

    DDD – Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Holy cow, I didn’t know there were so many abbreviations! And what’s more embarrassing, I didn’t know the abbreviations for the ailments that I have! Guess I must have CRS – Can’t Remember, um, Stuff.

  • Chris

    TPI=trigger point injections

  • Kriaten

    Amy I just love your reply! I have another one (SOS) which refers to, my immune system being, are you ready? (STUCK ON STUPID!) LOL that how I usually discribe MCTD…

  • Kriaten

    MCTD is mixed conective tissue disease, however I like your version better! multiple 😉 thanks for the list, it will be helpful to many!

  • Amy

    I’m a nurse; I’ve seen bc or b/c for “because,” tx for treatment, SLP is Speech & Language Pathology-some of our illnesses can result in dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Many people don’t realize that swallowing studies, evaluations, & training to help with dysphagia are done by SLP professionals, whose intimate study of the speech apparatus includes swallowing problems. Of course, PT is physical therapy, OT is occupational therapy. PT is primarily concerned with mobility while OT is primarily concerned with ADLs or activities of daily living. Both professions use a scale to measure a person’s independent functioning level in the face of chronic illnesses that might impair people’s ability to get meals on the table, go to the bathroom unassisted, remember medications, etc. I don’t recall the name (BF, my own abbreviation for Brain Fog, aka BOTLS-Brain Out To Lunch Syndrome or even BPOTLS-the additional P for “permanently”). There are also TRS, I believe the abbreviation is, for Therapeutic Recreation Specialists, who use games, arts, crafts, etc., to assist people with socializing, taking their minds off some of their pain or other issues through distraction with pleasant activities-which helps me much of the time. I might have the abbreviation wrong on that. RT is Respiratory Therapy, these professionals handle anything dealing with the airways & breathing, which can be compromised in many people. When your activity is decreased due to being too sick or too much in pain, too tired, etc., to move around, by the way, you stop breathing deeply & filling your lungs. Aside from deep breathing, you can also blow up balloons to exercise your lungs (a trick I learned as a student nurse). After surgery, those IS (Incentive Spirometer) doodads they give you do about the same thing, & are aimed at getting anesthesia out of your lungs & opening up the alveoli (air sacs) so pneumonia doesn’t set in. IS is more vigorous than blowing up a balloon, but the balloon trick still helps a lot of people. I use the balloon trick myself, esp. when I feel too sick, sore, tired, etc., to move around much.
    If I think of more, I’ll add them. Wonder if there’s a Wiki out there? I do know ISMP-Institute for Safe Medicine Practices-has lists of error-prone abbreviations such as BID for twice a day, TID for 3 times a day, which are from the Latin (just like NPO for nil per os, which is sometimes abbreviated NBM for nothing by mouth-a status with which many of us are familiar, if for nothing else than the 12 hour fast required before most cholesterol tests). Joint Commission has gotten more specific, with a list of “Do Not Use” abbreviations which hospitals & medical personnel are to avoid in hopes of reducing medical errors.

    OK, maybe from here we should have a Chronic Illness “REAL” medical abbreviations list for laughs. Like, TWHABS for the infamous This Won’t Hurt A Bit phrase physicians typically utter right before doing something that hurts so badly they have to peel you off the ceiling when they’re through (the S at the end=Syndrome). Or, SMS for Senior Moment Syndrome (aka BFS or Brain Fog Syndrome). And of course, JPN for Just Plain Nuts, what doctors like to label patients, esp. women, who have illnesses they don’t know much (if anything) about & prefer to claim it’s not real rather than figure out what’s going on & how to help people. Like they did with MS until after the 50s for much of the medical profession, or SCA-Sickle Cell Anemia-which was blamed on laziness & alcoholism (with no thought for the fact people who hurt attempt to get relief, & alcohol kills or amelirates pain for many people). How about LDS for Lazy Doctor Syndrome to point stuff like that out (If mostly women or minorities are afflicted with something, LDS (apologies to Mormons for whom this means Latter Day Saints) is the condition that afflicts the medical profession. Not unusual; there is a LONG list for millenia of doctors drumming out of the profession any doctor who insisted on doing research to figure out how to help people, from dissection of cadavers for anatomy to handwashing to prevent childbed fever in OB patients to the people who, in 1991, discovered an unknown class of retrovirus in CFS patients & were drummed out of medicine & are now trying to say XMRV isn’t real but who refuse to find any other theory through research-the reason privately funded CFS research is about all the legit research being done in that field. (The people who discovered a “fat virus” still haven’t gotten any credence, but how else do you explain obesity in 3rd world populations where getting one meal a day is a challenge? Of course, finding a virus would cut into the extremely lucrative weight loss surgery business (pun definitely intended!), so we can find a fiscal reason why they balk at any explanation other than “fat & lazy”). But who gains from not figuring out CFS, fibro, & other chronic conditions that right now, have no specific tests available for definitive diagnosis? It’d be cheaper to find a teast, treatments, cures hopefully/

  • TiasMom

    Can you add SMAS please? It’s Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome. Rare but very real to so many.

  • Teresa Flores

    MTX – Methotrexate

  • Claralou2602

    Please could you add CHI – Congenital Hyperinsulinism. Thank you.

  • Kristie

    IC: Interstitial Cystitis
    PID: Pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Shelly

    You could add NCS – Neuro-cardiogenic syncope
    And for POTS you left off the word syndrome! xD

    Glad you have them in alphabetical order, it’s quite useful.

  • Becky

    Another to add since many of us are joining—

    TN-Trigeminal Neuralgia

  • Linda Masters

    This is extremely helpful! Thanks for posting it!!! I did no see any abbreviation for “Diverticulitis”. I don’t even know if there is one, but I have faith that you will find out!! Thanks and God Bless you!

  • Bianca

    What about IST, inappropriate sinus tachycardia, ASD autistic specrum disorder, RAD reactive attachment disorder, ODD oppositional defiance disorder.

  • Elspeth

    Might want to add one more: RO (Rule out)

    I used to think that this abbreviation meant “reminiscent of” and would like to make sure no one else makes the same mistake.

  • Stacey Rogers

    MG = Myasthenia Gravis