Knowledge Is Power

In the attempt to take control of one’s health care, the maze of medical terminology can be overwhelming. Many terms are used that are part of a complex medical language that a lay person may never master fully.

Many acronyms and abbreviations are used as well. Some are clearly understood by the patient, others are used with a general understanding. Some are not understood at all.

Knowledge is power. Knowing what these acronyms and abbreviations mean will help you understand yours or your loved one’s diagnoses, recommendations and prognosis. Some are used by medical staff without awareness that the patient and family may not know what they mean, and may not want to ask.

Some of the simpler, more common ones include: BP—blood pressure. This will certainly be measured in the ICU—Intensive Care Unit. It will likely be measured by an RN—Registered Nurse, or an LPN—Licensed Practical Nurse. They will likely also measure your I&O—Intake and Output—all you take in, and all you put out. If you cannot take anything in PO—by mouth, then you are NPO—nothing by mouth. You may have an NG tube—nasogastric tube—in your nose to provide hydration. You will probably have an IV, intravenous tube in your arm or hand as well to administer fluids and liquid medication. In prolonged cases of NPO, a PEG tube—Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy tube may be inserted into the stomach to allow fluids, medications and liquid nutrition to be provided when swallowing is not possible due to decreased consciousness or difficulty swallowing.

Perhaps you suffer from sleep apnea. You may use a CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, which delivers just that: continuous, positive airway pressure to allow you healthier sleep.

As we age, most of us suffer from STM loss—Short Term Memory loss. With advancing age and some diseases that accompany it, LTM loss—Long Term Memory loss is a factor, as well as STM loss. If this memory loss prevents someone from remaining in their home safely and independently, they may move to an ALF—Assisted Living Facility. With advancing healthcare needs, someone may require help in a SNF—skilled nursing facility, which is—in most cases– the same as a NH—Nursing Home.

We all strive to perform WNL—Within Normal Limits, or at least WFL-Within Functional Limits. If this is a challenge in one’s home, a person may receive HH-Home Health nursing and/or therapy services. Those therapists may be a PT—Physical Therapist and their assistant—PTA, and/or an OT—Occupational Therapist and their certified assistant—COTA, and/or an ST—speech therapist, a.k.a. (also known as) an SLP—speech/language pathologist. There are no speech therapy assistants utilized in the medical field.

Just like doctors and nurses, these therapists work with multiple diagnoses, including: CVA—cerebro-vascular accident (a.k.a. stroke), and TBI—Traumatic Brain Injury, which may be caused by an MVA—motor vehicle accident. They will likely review the H&P—History and Physical—written by your doctor, before they initiate their POC—plan of care. They may also provide e-stim—electrical stimulation—to rehabilitate muscles.

When injury or illness causes pain, a TENS unit—Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation—may be used to relieve pain.

If you have had a CVA/stroke, it is generally classified as one of two types: ischemic or hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is the most common type, and is caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in or on the surface of the brain, bleeding into the surrounding tissues.

A minor stroke is also known as a TIA, or Transient Ischemic Attack. These “mini-strokes” generally resolve without any intervention, but may portend a full-blown stroke in the future. The symptoms are generally temporary, and may or may not show up on imaging tests. They truly are transient—here, and gone. If you feel you may have experienced one, however, seeing your health care provider is a MUST.

The term “stroke” dates back at least 500 years. When, in those primitive medical times, it was truly a mystery when a person’s actions, interactions, speech, strength or level of consciousness suddenly changed in a matter of mere seconds, it was attributed to “the stroke of God’s hand.” We have kept the term “stroke” since then.

Nearly all of us have had an X-ray of some sort. But why is it called “X”? In 1895, a German physics professor named Wilhelm Roentgen was experimenting with cathode rays in discharge tubes, when he discovered an unidentified radiation emerging from them. He labeled it “X”, and it eventually was labeled X-Roentgen ray, and thus was shortened to “X-ray.”

It is very important to know CPR in order to possibly save someone’s life. Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation training is offered through Red Cross, and other qualified institutions as well. Before your s/s (signs and symptoms) of a heart attack, you may also have SOB: shortness of breath. If your heart condition warrants, you may require a CABG, or “cabbage” in hospital lingo: Coronary Artery Bypass Graft. An EKG—electrocardiogram—monitors heart function.

As well as having X-rays, you may have been tested with a CT or “cat” scan. This stands for Computerized Tomography. An MRI is short for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and a PET scan is the acronym for Positron Emission Tomography.

Most of us have heard of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, the branch of the government that oversees food and drug safety. The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control attempt to do just that through education, prevention and research. The NIH—National Institutes of Health—are another part of the US government, consisting of over 20 different divisions, each dealing with some aspect of health, and are generally research-based.


Ideally, none of us would ever have to become familiar with any of these acronyms, abbreviations or terms. We would all stay healthy, and not have to speak or understand this language. Most of us, at one point, will see one or more of these printed in our medical history.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is an organization of American physicians. It also stands for Against Medical Advice. We can all prevent this one from appearing on our charts by simply following our healthcare provider’s advice and orders.