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30 commonly used medical terms and abbreviations that are useful for first aiders to know

Medical terms are often daunting but they’re also often used in first aid and in clinical settings. You may hear some of these when an ambulance crew arrive, or at the doctors or from a casualty when they’re relating their own illness or condition. Sometimes they appear on casualty monitoring cards.

Some medical terms have a similar prefix (first part of the word) or suffix (ending) because they are often based on latin or greek, the foundation languages of medicine. This also means they pop up a lot in medicine so once you learn to recognise the word, its beginning or ending, you can understand its meaning in that context.

Here’s our 30 most commonly used medical terms that might help further your understanding of medical terms.

1. Acute = a condition that appears quickly but is usually short term.

2. “-algia = pain, e.g. myalgia (muscle pain) or neuralgia (nerve pain).

3. BP = Blood pressure. The force of circulating blood on the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is taken using two measurements: systolic (measured when the heart beats, when blood pressure is at its highest) and diastolic (measured between heart beats, when blood pressure is at its lowest).

A blood pressure meter showing systolic , diastolic pressures and a pulse rate.

4. BLS = Basic Life Support. A term used to describe life saving techniques, mainly CPR and the clearing/maintaining of an open airway.

5. Chronic = a recurring or persistent condition, usually more than 3 months.

6. Contusion = a bruise, where the smallest blood vessels, called capillaries, have been ruptured.

7. Critical = vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits.

8. Cyanosis = blue skin or lips due to circulation of de-oxygenated blood.

Peripheral cyanosis on the ends of fingers, a sign of lack of blood flow.

9. “-edema = swelling caused by fluid trapped inside tissues. E.g. ‘Pulmonary edema’ where excess fluid collects in the lungs, making breathing difficult.

10. “-emia” = present in the blood e.g. hypoglycemia (low sugar in the blood)

11. EMS = Emergency Medical Services

12. Fibrillation = rapid irregular contractions of the muscle fibres of the heart resulting in a lack of synchronism between heartbeat and pulse. A de-fibrillator aims to correct this.

13. Fracture = damaged bone from small partial cracks to complete breaks and can occur in any bone.

14. Haematoma = Like a bruise but much larger and deeper. They swell because of the fluid that builds up in the area. The skin is dark red, or black and blue, and is painful and tender.

15. “Hyper- “ = higher than normal as in hypertension (high blood pressure) or hyperthermia (high temperature).

16. “Hypo– “ = lower than normal as in hypothermia (low temperature) or hypoglycemic (low blood sugar).

17. Ischemia = Characterised by a lack of blood flow to an organ or part of the body. E.g. TIA , a Transient Ischaemic Attack or minor stroke is a temporary loss of blood flow in the brain.

18. “-ism” = a condition of e.g. hyperthyroidism is a higher than normal thyroid condition.

19. “-itis = inflammation e.g. hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix.

20. “NEWS” = National Early Warning Score, a system used by ambulance crew and others for assessing acute illness, signs of deterioration and actions to prevent worsening.

21. Obs = short for ‘Observations’, regular checks of Vital Signs – colour, temperature, breathing, pulse and alertness level.

22. “-oma = a swelling or a tumor, e.g. melanoma is a swelling of skin cells,

23. “-osis = a condition or disease progress e.g. listeriosis or prognosis.

24. Pulse = measure of a pulsating artery as it crosses a bony area. A ‘pulse oximeter’ is a device that fits on the finger and measures pulse and oxygen saturation in blood.

A pulse oximeter measures pulse as well as the oxygen level in the blood.

25. ROSC = Return of Spontaneous Circulation. A return of some breathing from a casualty who has been resuscitated using CPR.

26. RR = Respiratory rate , the rate of breathing per minute.

27. “-rrhea” = a discharge or flow as in diarrhoea

28. Trauma = physical injuries of sudden onset and severity which require immediate medical attention.

29. Triage = prioritisation of casualty care based on illness/injury and severity. Professionals use a colour coded system in the field (red = critical and immediate help, amber = serious injuries , green = walking wounded, black = dead and dying)

30. Zoonosis = a disease or infection that can jump between non-human and human. Can be bacterial, viral or parasitic. e.g. Leptospirosis, Lyme disease or rabies.

…and now on to the acronyms!…..

We don’t use a lot of these medical words in first aid courses but they are useful to know. We do, however, use a lot of acronyms which hopefully you’ll remember from your first aid course as they are universally used.

If you search ‘acronyms’ in the blog search tool, there are lots that come up.

Remembering all of this can be daunting but keeping your first aid refreshed is important. Have a look at our blog on retaining your first aid skills and knowledge.