4.9 Common Medical Terms

This final section covers abbreviations for common medical terms. Essentially, it is a collection of abbreviations that are commonplace but do not fit into the other categories in this chapter. Once again, the more complex abbreviations will be explained to help you fully understanding the content, and review exercises are provided at the end of the section.


Table 4.32. Common Medical Terms

Ab antibody
abd abdomen
BM bowel movement, bone marrow
C1, C2, … cervical vertebra 1, cervical vertebra 2, …
CCU coronary care unit
CNS central nervous system

Key Concepts

As can be seen in the table above, the abbreviation BM (bowel movement or bone marrow) can have two very different meanings. As such, it is always important to look at the context in which the abbreviation is used. This will help you determine which meaning is intended.

A coronary care unit (CCU) is a hospital unit that specializes in assessing heart rhythms and providing complex care to patients experiencing cardiac pathologies. Not all hospitals have a CCU, but there are a number of them in the Edmonton area, including at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital (Alberta Health Services, 2022).

Example of orders:

  1. Pt to be discharged from the CCU this pm

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient to be discharged from the coronary care unit this evening.


Table 4.33. Common Medical Terms

DNA deoxyribonucleic acid
DOB date of birth
Dr. doctor
Dx diagnosis
EENT eye, ear, nose, and throat
ENT ears, nose, and throat
ER emergency room
Fx fracture


image of different types of fractures
Fig. 4.19








Key Concept

Fractures (Fx) can occur in any bone in the body and, as can be seen in Fig. 4.19, there are different types of fractures depending on the mechanism of injury. Fractures are often, at least initially, treated in the emergency room (ER), then the patient is sent to a surgical unit if they require surgery to repair the injury.

Example of orders:

  1. Dx: GERD and COPD
  2. Pt admitted to the ER with L leg Fx

Explanation of orders:

  1. Diagnosis: gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  2. Patient admitted to the emergency room with a left leg fracture.


Table 4.34. Common Medical Terms

GI gastrointestinal
GU genitourinary
GYN gynecology
HCA healthcare aide
Ht height
Hx history
ICU intensive care unit
JP Jackson-Pratt drain
Kx Kardex
L left
image of a drain called a Jackson-Prat drain from wound
Fig. 4.20











Key Concept

A Jackson-Pratt drain (JP) has a soft plastic bulb with a flexible tube attached to it. It also has a stopper that can be used to drain the fluid from the bulb (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2022). The tubing is placed inside the patient to allow for drainage to leave the patient’s body and into the bulb, as can be seen in Fig. 4.20. When the bulb is squeezed, a gentle suction is created that draws excess fluid from the body. The bulb should be compressed at all times, except when draining the bulb (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2022).

Example of orders:

  1. Pt has Hx of PID, referral to GYN

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient has a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, referral to gynecology.


Table 4.35. Common Medical Terms

L1, L2, … lumbar vertebra 1, lumbar vertebra 2, …
lat lateral
LLQ left lower quadrant
LPN licensed practical nurse
LUQ left upper quadrant
MBA motorbike accident
MD medical doctor
meds medications
mets metastasis
mmHg millimetres of mercury


image of multiple pills
Fig. 4.21









Key Concept

The abbreviation mmHg (millimetres of mercury) is the standard unit of measurement for pressure and is often used in reference to blood pressure. Blood pressure numbers at or slightly below 120/80 mmHg are considered to be within the normal range (American Heart Association, 2022). The first number (120) is the systolic blood pressure and shows how much pressure the blood is exerting against the artery walls when the heart beats. The second number (80) is the diastolic blood pressure and indicates how much pressure the blood is exerting against the artery walls while the heart is resting between beats (American Heart Association, 2022).

Example of orders:

  1. Pt has pain to LUQ and LLQ following MBA

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient has pain to the left upper quadrant and left lower quadrant following a motorbike accident.


Table 4.36. Common Medical Terms

MVA motor vehicle accident
NICU neonatal intensive care unit
OPD outpatient department
OR operating room
Ortho orthopedics
PA posteroanterior
PAC pre-admission clinic
PCA patient controlled analgesic
post-op after surgery
pre-op before surgery

Key Concept

Patient-controlled analgesics (PCAs) are used on many different hospital units. PCAs, as the name indicates, allow the patient to control the administration of their analgesics. The patient presses a button, which then provides an analgesic through their IV to relieve their pain. The amount of analgesic that can be administered is limited and the amount used is monitored. PCAs are a great innovation for patient care because they enable patients to be self-reliant and also stay on top of their pain management.

Examples of orders:

  1. Pt to have PCA post-op
  2. Pt to arrive at PAC at 0700 tomorrow

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient to have patient-controlled analgesic after surgery.
  2. Patient to arrive at patient admission clinic at 7 o’clock in the morning tomorrow.


Table 4.37. Common Medical Terms

prep preparation
Pt patient
qt quart
req requisitions
RLQ right lower quadrant
RN registered nurse
ROM range of motion
RR recovery room
RT respiratory therapist
R right


image of respiratory therapist working on a patient, intubating , auscultating and preparing to ventilate
Fig. 4.22









Key Concepts

Respiratory therapists (RTs) are healthcare professionals who monitor, assess, and treat people who are having problems breathing. RTs are trained in many advanced airway interventions, including ventilation, airway management, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and oxygen and aerosol therapy. They can assess ongoing patient needs and assist in various codes (medical emergencies) that may occur in the hospital. Fig. 4.22 shows a group of RTs practising their intubation skills.

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work in hospitals and other medical settings (Ernstmeyer & Christman, 2021). RNs complete a bachelor’s degree, whereas LPNs complete a two- to three-year program. Each profession has their own type of training and scope of practice.

Examples of orders:

  1. Pt to RR post-op to be assessed by RT
  2. Physio to assess ROM to R arm

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient to recovery room after surgery to be assessed by a respiratory therapist.
  2. Physiotherapist to assess range of motion to the right arm.


Table 4.38. Common Medical Terms

RUQ right upper quadrant
S1, S2, … sacral vertebra 1, sacral vertebra 2, …
T1, T2, … thoracic vertebra 1, thoracic vertebra 2, …
Tx treatment
UV ultraviolet
VAX computerized medical system
W/C wheelchair
wt weight
yr year

Key Concept

VAX is a type of computerized medical system used in Alberta. It provides a means of recording medication administration and other aspects of patient care. There are a few hospitals that currently use it; however, the provincial-wide implementation of ConnectCare, another form of electronic medical record keeping, will end the use of VAX in the future.

Example of orders:

  1. Pt to mobilize with W/C
  2. Record pt wt in VAX

Explanation of orders:

  1. Patient to mobilize with wheelchair.
  2. Record patient’s weight in the computerized medical system.




Unless otherwise indicated, material on this page has been adapted from the following resource:

Carter, K., & Rutherford, M. (2020). Building a medical terminology foundation. eCampusOntario. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/medicalterminology/ licensed under CC BY 4.0



Alberta Health Services. (2022). Programs and services. https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/findhealth/search.aspx?type=service#icon_banner

American Heart Association (2022). Understanding blood pressure readings. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings

Ernstmeyer, K., & Christman, E. (Eds.). (2020). Nursing pharmacology. Chippewa Valley Technical College. https://wtcs.pressbooks.pub/pharmacology/ licensed under CC BY 4.0

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2022). Caring for your Jackson-Pratt drain. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/caring-your-jackson-pratt-drain


Image Credits (images are listed in order of appearance)

Types of fracture by Smart Servier Medical Art, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jackson-Pratt Drain by BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA 4.0

People’s health and wellness with drugs (medicine) by SharonDawn, CC BY-SA 4.0

Spokane respiratory therapist students by Rose State Community College, CC BY 2.5


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The Language of Medical Terminology Copyright © 2022 by Lisa Sturdy and Susanne Erickson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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