Have you ever been a hospital patient or visited someone in the hospital?  Have you ever been confused by what was written on the white board or discussed in bedside shift report?  My guess is that many of you will answer yes to these questions.

Oh the world of the wondrous medical language.  It is a complex mix of acronyms and long scientific terms for body parts and tests.  We nurses and physicians pride ourselves on the use of this terminology in our daily communication.  I think where we struggle though is remembering that the majority of our customers do not speak this language.   While rounding the other day, I saw this on a patient’s white board:  Goal –    ↓ SOB      ↓  BS.  I had to ask the patient what he thought his goals were for the day. He chucked saying that it seemed it was clear he had to get his act together.  What may have seemed like we were telling the patient to stop being a SOB and knock off the BS was in fact a goal to decrease shortness of breath and lower his blood sugar.

In order to help patients and families interpret what may be written on their hospital white board or heard in shift report, I have compiled a list of commonly used abbreviations.  Because there are thousands of acronyms and abbreviations, I focused on general care terms.

AC/HS:  This means before meals and at bedtime.  You will often see this with the BS because it                                 is referring to when your blood sugar needs to be checked.

AMA:  Against medical advice

Bx:  biopsy

BP:  blood pressure

BR:  bedrest (refers to your prescribed activity level)

BS:  We don’t think you’re full of it!  This stands for blood sugar.

CA:  cancer

D/C:  discharge

DNR:  Do Not Resuscitate (in the event that your heart stops, you do not want life saving measures like


Ds:  dressing

ETOH:  refers to alcohol use

FHS:  fetal heart sounds (listening to the heart sounds of your baby in utero)

ROM:  range of motion

HOB:  head of bead

HOH: hard of hearing

I&O:  intake and output (measurements of how much you eat and drink compared to how much you

urinate or excrete)

IVF:  intravenous fluids (when fluids are given to you through a line in one of your veins).

LOC:  level of consciousness (how awake you are)

LOS:  length of stay (how long you will be in the hospital)

NKDA:  no known drug allergies

NPO:  Stands for nothing by mouth i.e. you can’t eat or drink anything usually because of a test

or procedure.

OOB:  out of bed (usually referring to your allowed activity level)

PCP:  Not a drug, but rather primary care physician.

PO:  refers to taking something by mouth.

PRN:  means as needed and is used with things like pain medication or stool softeners.

PT/OT:  physical therapy / occupational therapy are the individuals who are trained to assess your

ability to physically go about your daily activities.

Q:  the letter q before a term means every.  For example:  turn q 2 hours means turn every 2 hours.

RT:  Respiratory Therapy (the staff that specialize in your breathing).

SCD:  sequential compression device.  These are the pumps that are placed on your legs to prevent

blood clots.

SNF:  skilled nursing facility.  You may here this term when discussing discharge planning.  It refers to a

facility that can continue to provide nursing care outside of the hospital.

SOB:  No, we don’t think that you are one.  This stands for shortness of breath

Tx:  therapy or treatment

VS:  vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, oxygen level)

WBAT:  weight bearing as tolerated.  This means that you can put weight on your legs as you tolerate it.

WNL:  within normal limits.  You may see this abbreviation in relation to your lab work.


I hope this has been helpful.  I would like to hear if there has been a time when you read or heard something and did not understand what it meant.  How did you handle that?  Please comment below!


Thank you!

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