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July 19, 2012 | Written by: Scott Carlton

Medical Speak: Translating Acronyms and Abbreviations in Times of Emergency

In the thick of a medical emergency, what comes out of a doctor’s or nurse’s mouth can leave you scratching your head. The verbal shorthand used by healthcare professionals can be confusing without giving much clue to what you’re facing. So be prepared and follow these tips on how to interpret your favorite MD or ER physician.

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Using medical speak is a way healthcare professionals signal that trouble is on the way or has already arrived.

DNR = Do Not Resuscitate
PIA = Pain In the Ass
CD = Circling the Drain
SBI: Something Bad Inside
Code Blue: Terminal Case
BSA = Burn Surface Area
CHF = Congestive Heart Failure
GSW = Gun Shot Wound
LOC = Loss of Consciousness

Take 2 and call me in the morning.

The acronyms below can be quick reminders of how to diagnose certain illnesses.

To recognize a cancerous mole, know your ABCDEs.

A = Asymmetry: Spots don’t look the same on both sides.
B = Border
: It’s blurry with jagged edges.
C = Color
: Mole has more than one hue.
D = Diameter
: It’s larger than a pencil eraser.
E = Elevation
: The spot is raised above the surface.

To diagnose causes for post-op fever, remember the 5 Ws.

Wind = The pulmonary system is the primary source of fever in the first 48 hours.
= There might be an infection at the surgical site.
= Check intravenous access site for signs of phlebitis.
= Deep venous thrombosis can develop due to pelvic pooling or restricted mobility related to pain and fatigue.
= Urinary tract infection is possible if urinary catheterization was required.

To detect symptoms of a thyroid condition, look for STING.

S = Sweating
T = Tremor or Tachycardia
I = Intolerance
to heat; Irregular menstruation; and Irritability
N = Nervousness
G =
Goiter and Gastrointestinal (loose stools/diarrhea)

To diagnose a stroke, look for FAST.

F = Facial droop
A = Arm
S = Slurred
T = Time
to get to hospital

To identify osteoporosis risks, ACCESS is the key.

A  = Alcohol use
C = Corticosteroid
C =
low Calcium levels
E =
low Estrogen levels
S = Smoking
S= Sedentary

And the results are in.

Abbreviations aren’t limited to the doctor’s office or the emergency room; laboratories also use them in administering and classifying blood tests.

ACT = Activated Clotting Time
CPM = Counts Per Minute
PV = Plasma Volume
WBC = White Blood Count

About the author
Scott Carlton
Scott is Associate Creative Director at SSW. His wellness pledge is to keep fit by eating plenty of chicken and yogurt.

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