Understanding Medical Abbreviations in Prescriptions

Decoding Medical Terminology in Prescriptions: A Comprehensive List of 212 Commonly Used Medical Abbreviations

Doctors and healthcare professionals are busy people who need to save time and use space efficiently in their prescriptions. This is where medical abbreviations come in handy. They allow healthcare providers to communicate important information quickly and accurately, particularly in emergencies where every second counts. But as important as these abbreviations are, they can be confusing and even dangerous if not understood by patients. Misinterpreting an abbreviation can lead to serious consequences like taking the wrong medication or dose, or even an overdose.

Don't get confused by medical jargon - check out our list of 212 common medical abbreviations.

Some abbreviations have multiple meanings, adding to the potential for confusion. Patients should always ask their healthcare provider to explain any abbreviation they don’t understand to avoid errors. By taking the time to understand these abbreviations, patients can ensure they take their medications correctly and at the right time, leading to better health outcomes.

Stop Feeling Lost and Confused – Read Below to Discover Our Comprehensive List of 212 Common Medical Abbreviations and Unlock the Secrets of Your Prescriptions!

aaOf each
acBefore meals
adRight ear
ad libAs desired
AFBAcid-fast bacillus
AGSilver (argentum)
alt. dieb.Every other day
AMAAgainst medical advice
ambAmbulate, walk
ANAAntinuclear antibody
aq ad iniect.In water for injection
ASLeft ear
ASAAcetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin)
AUBoth ears
BIDTwice a day
BMBowel movement
BPBlood pressure
BRPBathroom privileges
BUNBlood urea nitrogen
CBCComplete blood count
ccCubic centimeter
CHFCongestive heart failure
CNSCentral nervous system
CO2Carbon dioxide
COPDChronic obstructive pulmonary disease
CPChest pain
CPRCardiopulmonary resuscitation
CSFCerebrospinal fluid
CVACerebrovascular accident
CXRChest x-ray
D5WDextrose 5% in water
D/C or DCDiscontinue
DNRDo not resuscitate
DSDouble strength
DWDextrose in water
ECG or EKGElectrocardiogram
EREmergency room
FFForce fluids
fl. oz.Fluid ounce
FSFrozen section
GCSGlasgow Coma Scale
GERDGastroesophageal reflux disease
Hb or HgbHemoglobin
HClHydrochloric acid
HEENTHead, eyes, ears, nose, throat
HOBHead of bed
H&P or HPIHistory and physical examination
HSAt bedtime

Did you know that medical abbreviations can have different meanings based on context? Always check with your healthcare provider to clarify any you don’t understand.

I&DIncision and drainage
I&OIntake and output
IBWIdeal body weight
ICUIntensive care unit
IJInternal jugular
IPPBIntermittent positive pressure breathing
IUDIntrauterine device
KCLPotassium chloride
L&DLabor and delivery
LEEPLoop electrosurgical excision procedure
LLQLeft lower quadrant
LPLumbar puncture
mL or mlMilliliter
mmHgMillimeters of mercury
MRSAMethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
MSMorphine sulfate
N/V or N/V/DNausea, vomiting, diarrhea
NADNo acute distress
NG or ngNasogastric
NICUNeonatal intensive care unit
NIDDMNon-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
NKDANo known drug allergies
NPONothing by mouth
NSNormal saline
O&POva and parasites
ODRight eye
OSLeft eye
OUBoth eyes
p.c. or pcAfter meals
p.o. or poBy mouth
p.r.n. or prnAs needed
p.t. or ptProthrombin time
p.v. or pvVaginally
PALSPediatric Advanced Life Support
PCAPatient-controlled analgesia
PDAPatent ductus arteriosus
PERRLAPupils equal, round, reactive to light and accommodation
pHHydrogen ion concentration
PIDPelvic inflammatory disease
PMHPast medical history
p.o. or poBy mouth
p.r.n. or prnAs needed
prnAs needed
PTPhysical therapy
PT/INRProthrombin time/international normalized ratio
q.d. or qdDaily
q.h. or qhEvery hour
q.2h or q2hEvery 2 hours
q.3h or q3hEvery 3 hours
q.4h or q4hEvery 4 hours

Remember, always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking medications, even if you’re familiar with the abbreviation used. Never hesitate to ask for clarification if you’re unsure.

q.6h or q6hEvery 6 hours
q.8h or q8hEvery 8 hours
q.12h or q12hEvery 12 hours
q.i.d. or qidFour times a day
q.o.d. or qodEvery other day
q.s. or qsQuantity sufficient
q.t. or qtQuart
R/ORule out
RBCRed blood cell
RDSRespiratory distress syndrome
REMRapid eye movement
RICERest, ice, compression, elevation
RLLRight lower lobe
RLQRight lower quadrant
ROMRange of motion
ROSReview of systems
RSVRespiratory syncytial virus
SIDSSudden infant death syndrome
SOBShortness of breath
SSRISelective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
STDSexually transmitted disease
subq or subcutSubcutaneous
sup or suppSuppository
TENSTranscutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
tidThree times a day
TPNTotal parenteral nutrition
TPRTemperature, pulse, respiration
TSHThyroid-stimulating hormone
UGIUpper gastrointestinal
UTIUrinary tract infection
VAVisual acuity
VDRLVenereal Disease Research Laboratory
VSVital signs
WBCWhite blood cell
WPWWolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
y.o. or yoYears old
μg or mcgMicrogram
μL or mcLMicroliter

This is a complete list of commonly used medical abbreviations in prescriptions, along with their meanings. It’s important to note that not all medical abbreviations are appropriate for all medical settings and situations, and their use should always be guided by proper medical knowledge and practice.

Fun fact: The most commonly used medical abbreviation is Rx, which stands for ‘prescription’. How many of these abbreviations did you already know?

What does “X” indicate in medical charting?

In medical charting, the abbreviation “X” is often used to indicate exceptions to defined limits in the patient’s findings or assessment. It signifies that there are abnormal findings within a specific category or parameter. For example, during a cardiac assessment, if a patient has pink, warm, and dry skin, but also has an audible murmur, the presence of the murmur would be indicated by using “X” to represent an exception to the normal cardiac assessment.

This shorthand allows healthcare professionals to quickly signal that there are deviations from expected or defined limits. Following the use of “X,” a focused assessment would typically be documented to provide specific details about the abnormal findings. An alternative to using “X” is using the abbreviations “WNL” (within normal limits) or “WDL” (within defined limits) to denote that the patient’s findings are within the expected range.

What are some common nursing terms and abbreviations used in the USA?

In the field of nursing in the USA, numerous common terms and abbreviations are used to communicate important information and instructions. Some of these include:

  • AC (Before Meals): This abbreviation is used to indicate interventions or medications that should be completed or administered before meals.
  • Ad Lib (At Liberty): This term refers to actions that patients are free to take as much as they choose.
  • CBR (Complete Bed Rest): CBR is ordered when a patient is required to rest in bed without any other activity.
  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate): DNR is an abbreviation used when a patient or their appointed family member consents to not having full resuscitation efforts undertaken by medical staff.
  • Fluid Overload (Hypervolemia): This term is used when a patient has either consumed too much fluid or is not excreting enough fluid.
  • Hat (Urine or Stool Container): Nurses may refer to a container used for collecting urine or stool in the toilet as a “hat.”
  • HS (At Bedtime): This abbreviation is used when interventions or medications are to be completed or administered at bedtime.
  • NPO (Nothing By Mouth): NPO is a commonly used abbreviation indicating that a patient cannot consume any fluid or food by mouth.
  • OR (Operating Room): OR is used to refer to the operating room, where surgical procedures take place.
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): This abbreviation is used to describe the protective equipment that should be worn by staff or individuals.
  • PRN (As Needed): PRN is used to indicate that interventions or medications can be given as needed.
  • Q (Every): The letter Q often precedes a specific frequency or time for interventions or medications to be completed (e.g., Q4h means every 4 hours).
  • Rx (Prescription): Rx is occasionally used to indicate a prescription written or sent by a medical practitioner.
  • Waste (Extra or Unneeded Medicine): Nurses may refer to extra or unneeded medicine that is to be disposed of as “waste.”
  • WNL or WDL (Within Normal Limits or Within Defined Limits): These abbreviations are used in charting to indicate when a patient’s findings or assessments are within the expected range.
  • X (Exceptions to Defined Limits): X is used in charting to indicate when a patient’s findings or assessments are abnormal and fall outside the expected range.

The Importance of Using Medical Abbreviations Correctly


Medical abbreviations are crucial for efficient communication among healthcare providers. However, misinterpreting or misusing these abbreviations can have serious consequences for patients. Accurate interpretation and use of medical abbreviations are vital to ensure that patients receive the right medication and dosage at the right time. This section explores the significance of accurately interpreting and using medical abbreviations for patient safety.

  • It’s crucial to use medical abbreviations correctly and interpret them accurately to avoid any potential harm to patients.
  • Abbreviations are used in prescriptions to save time, and space, and reduce errors.
  • However, misinterpreting an abbreviation can lead to serious harm, including overdose or incorrect dosing.
  • Medical abbreviations can have multiple meanings, making it even more essential to understand them correctly.
  • Misunderstanding an abbreviation could cause a healthcare provider to prescribe the wrong medication, leading to severe consequences.
  • Patients who misunderstand abbreviations could take the wrong dosage or even stop taking their medication altogether.
  • This can lead to worsening symptoms, longer hospital stays, and even fatalities.
  • That’s why it’s essential to always ask healthcare providers to explain any abbreviation that you don’t understand.
  • Understanding medical abbreviations can help ensure that patients receive the correct medication at the right time and dose, leading to better health outcomes.

Other Medical Terminology in Prescriptions

Patients may encounter various medical terminology on their prescription labels and packaging. Understanding these terms is crucial to ensure proper medication use and avoid potential harm. Here are some common terms and tips for understanding them:

  • Drug names: Generic and brand names may differ, but both refer to the same medication.
  • Dosage instructions: This indicates how much of the medication to take and when.
  • Instructions for use: This may include how to take the medication (e.g. with food), any specific storage instructions, and what to do if you miss a dose.
  • Precautions: This includes any potential side effects and what to do if they occur.
  • Contraindications: This includes any conditions or medications that may interact with the medication and make it unsafe to take.

Tips for understanding these terms:

  • Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to explain any terms you don’t understand.
  • Use online resources or medication guides to learn more.
  • Keep a record of your medications and their instructions for reference.

By understanding these terms, patients can ensure safe and effective medication use.

Potential Risks of Misinterpreting Prescription Instructions

It’s important to seek advice from a healthcare provider if patients have questions about their prescription.

Self-interpretation can lead to serious consequences, including:

  • Misinterpreting an abbreviation
  • Taking the wrong medication
  • Taking the wrong dose
  • Not understanding how to use the medication

Consulting with a healthcare provider can:

  • Help patients understand the instructions
  • Clarify any medical terminology or abbreviations
  • Ensure the medication is taken correctly and safely

Patients should never be afraid to ask their healthcare provider for clarification or further explanation. It’s important to take medication as directed for optimal health outcomes.


Thank you for taking the time to learn about medical abbreviations and other terminology that you may encounter in your prescription. By understanding these terms and asking your healthcare provider for clarification when needed, you can help ensure that you take the correct medication at the right time and dose. Remember, misinterpreting an abbreviation can have serious consequences, so it’s essential to read and follow the instructions carefully.

On this page, we have provided you with a list of 212 commonly used medical abbreviations, along with their meanings and explanations. Keep this reference handy and don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider to explain any abbreviation you don’t understand.

Your health and safety are our top priority, and we hope that this page has helped you feel more confident in understanding your prescription instructions. Take care and always stay informed.