Decode Your Doctor’s Language

Medical speak is filled with tricky shorthand that can be confusing, condescending, and even life threatening, but not anymore: Be your own interpreter with our cheat sheet.

By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2012
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Confusing Medical Acronyms, Decoded

Does "CR" stand for Cardiac Rehabilitation? or Colon Resection? When dealing with doctors, don't be embarrassed to ask about abbreviations, especially if they involve a medication or procedure; they could have double meanings.

The 13 most common confusing acronyms »

Funny Medical Acroynms, Decoded

Like G.O.M.E.R.: Get Out of My Emergency Room! Say what?

10 of the more shocking slang terms that doctors might use »

Helpful Medical Acronyms, Decoded

Our friends at The Doctors television show shared some abbreviations they use to care for patients that can help you at home too, like F.A.S.T.: Facial droop, Arm weakness, Slurred speech, Time to call 911.

Read more »

Emergency Medical Acronyms, Decoded

If you’ve ever been in a hospital and heard a code announced over the loudspeaker that sent the staff scampering, you’ve probably wondered what was going on. Now you know:

BLUE: Adult medical emergency

WHITE: Pediatric medical emergency

PURPLE: Child abduction

GRAY: Combative person

SILVER: Combative person with a weapon and/or hostage

YELLOW: Bomb threat

PINK: Infant abduction

ORANGE: Hazardous-materials spill

BROWN: Bed full of excrement

RED: Fire

(Note: Emergency codes can differ from hospital to hospital.)

Extreme Medical Acronyms, Decoded

Sometimes shortcuts are an easier way of noting that something really bad is either about to happen—or already has.

A.V.: Anticipatory Vomiting

P&E: Prep & Enema

B.T.H.O.O.M.: Beats The Hell Out Of Me

G.O.K.: God Only Knows

F.U.O.: Fever of Undetermined Origin

C.Y.A.: Cover Your Ass (there’s been a screw-up)

U.F.O.: Unidentified Foreign Object

N.W.S.: New World Screwworm (parasitic infection)

A.N.D.: Allow Natural Death

M.D.T.: Maggot Debridement Therapy (use of fly larvae to clean wounds)

M.F.C.: Measure For Coffin

D.R.T.: Dead Right There (at scene of accident)

D.R.T.T.T.: Dead Right There, There, and There (at scene of accident, in multiple parts)

Medical Acronyms from the Lab, Decoded

Your blood test results may contain abbreviations for some important components. Here's what they mean:

Immune Function:
W.B.C.: White Blood Cell count (infection fighters)

Prostate Health:
P.S.A.: Prostate-Specific Antigen (prostate cancer marker)

Energy Levels:
R.B.C.: Red Blood Cell count (oxygen transporters)

M.C.V.: Mean Corpuscular Volume (size of average red blood cell, gauge of anemia)

M.C.H.: Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin (amount of hemoglobin in red blood cell, gauge of anemia)

Heart Disease:
H.D.L.: High-Density Lipoprotein (good cholesterol)

L.D.L.: Low-Density Lipo- protein (bad cholesterol)

V.L.D.L.: Very-Low- Density Lipoprotein (very bad cholesterol)

apo B: apolipoprotein B (heart-disease marker)

C.R.P.: C-Reactive Protein (measure of arterial inflammation)

Liver and Kidney Disease:
G.G.T.: Gamma-Glutamyl Transpeptidase (liver-disease marker)

A.L.T.: Alanine Transaminase (liver-disease marker, can also appear as S.G.P.T.)

B.U.N.:Blood Urea Nitrogen (gauge of kidney function)

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