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Abbreviations & symbols used in a medical office

Updated April 15, 2017

Imagine writing "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" in a small space when the abbreviation COPD fits in a smaller space, and saves time. Abbreviations and symbols in medicine make it easier to chart illnesses, diseases and treatments. The language used in medicine is not only Latin and Greek, but also a form of shorthand. Prescriptions include many abbreviations and symbols such as BID, which means twice a day, or a symbol such as a "c" that stands for "with."

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Typical Abbreviations

Some of the most common abbreviations found in a patient's chart deal with weight, height and vital signs. WT stands for weight, HT is height and vital signs is vs. Vital signs include blood pressure, temperature, pulse and respirations that are written as BP and TPR. Abbreviations that might occur in a patient's chart include "pt" for patient, H&P for history and physical, Bm (bowel movement), OD (right eye) and OS (left eye). The doctor records patients' complaints as c/o. "Sx" indicates symptoms and "dx" stands for diagnosis.

Conditions Abbreviated

Medical acronyms serve as abbreviations for many words used in the medical field. GERD, which stands for gastro-oseophageal reflux disease, is an example of how an acronym can save time and space when charting conditions. Other commonly used abbreviations are CHF (congestive heart failure), MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack), MS (multiple sclerosis), OA (osteoarthritis), SOB (shortness of breath), URI (upper respiratory infection) and UTI (urinary tract infection).

Treatments Abbreviated

Recording treatments, noted as Rx, performed in the office or prescribed, can include ROM (range of motion) used to manipulate the joints when a person is bedridden or wheelchair bound. An order for physiotherapy appears as PT. A "DSD" is a dry sterile dressing applied to a wound. Insertion of a tube through a nostril and into the stomach is a nasal gastric tube, or NGT. Prescription orders include the name and instructions for administering the drug. A prescription for a common antibiotic, penicillin, would read: Penicillin PO 500mg. tab q6h. The dose is: by mouth (PO, from the Latin per os), 500 milligram tablets every six hours.


Using symbols allows medical personnel to read instructions and information quickly. An arrow pointing up is a symbol used to mean "increase." Some symbols are familiar to most people such as the > (greater than), < (less than), @ and # symbols. Dosage symbols are used in prescriptions such as a dot placed over a horizontal line. The symbol for two pills is two dots over a horizontal line and two "1s" under the line. The dots and the number "1" correspond with each other.

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About the Author

Vickie Van Antwerp began her career as a technical writer for a consulting firm in 1987. Now a freelance writer in her fields of interest, her writings appear on, and in "The Phelps Connection" and "The Storyteller." Van Antwerp holds an Associate of Arts in liberal arts from Gloucester County College and certification as a surgical technologist from Lenoir College.

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