Hospital Abbreviations: A Guide to Common Acronyms

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Walking into a hospital can feel like entering a strange and foreign world, where people use words and phrases you’ve never heard before—but everyone seems to think you should know what they mean. Learning some common hospital slang and medical jargon can make your hospital stay less stressful and help you navigate the experience with ease.

Hospital Abbreviations for Care Units

Hospitals organize their caregiving units based on the level of patient care required. In hospital terms, the patient’s level of illness is called “acuity.” Intensive care units manage the care of the highest-acuity patients, while regular patient floors house lower-acuity patients. In addition, most hospitals group patients by the medical service (type of specialty) overseeing their care. One example would be a floor for orthopedic patients. You might hear these abbreviations used when staff refer to various care units:

  • CCU: Cardiac (or Coronary) Care Unit, an intensive care unit for people with cardiovascular issues
  • ER/ED: Emergency Room or Department, the area where people with medical emergencies receive treatment
  • ICU: Intensive Care Unit, any department providing care critically ill or injured people
  • MICU: Medical Intensive Care Unit, a place where people who are critically ill due to a medical issue, such as sepsis, receive care
  • Neuro ICU: Neurology Intensive Care unit, a place where people with brain injuries and other serious neurological conditions receive care
  • NICU: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a place where premature infants and other critically ill babies receive care
  • OR: Operating Room, where patients receive surgery
  • PACU: Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, also called the “recovery room,” where people wake up after surgery before being discharged home or transferred to a patient room
  • PICU: Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, a specialty care area for critically ill children up to the age of 17
  • SICU: Surgical Intensive Care Unit, a care unit for people who emerge from surgery critically ill
  • Step-Down Unit: a place where patients get transferred to receive intermediate care after spending time in an ICU but before being transferred to the floor
  • Telemetry Floor or Telemetry Unit: an area where patients with cardiovascular issues receive care that includes remote cardiac monitoring by nurses
  • The Floor: a place where patients with non-life-threatening, uncomplicated health issues receive care or recover from surgery
  • TICU: Trauma Intensive Care Unit, a critical care unit for people with severe traumatic injuries (and sometimes burns)

Hospital Abbreviations Related to Patient Care

In addition to hospital jargon related to the physical space, you might hear acronyms or slang related to patient care. Some of the most common abbreviations and acronyms are:

  • Central Line: a large intravenous (IV) line placed into a major vein in the arm, neck or chest
  • Code: an alert to hospital personnel of an important (sometimes life-threatening) activity occurring that requires their immediate attention
  • CT: short for “computed tomography,” a noninvasive imaging scan. Another name for this imaging test is CAT scan, for “computed axial tomography.”
  • IV: Intravenous, refers to delivering substances directly into the bloodstream and/or the devices used in the delivery process, such as an IV catheter and tubing
  • LR: Lactated Ringers, an IV solution consisting of water and several electrolytes
  • MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a non-invasive imaging scan
  • NPO: Nil per os, which is Latin for “nothing by mouth,” meaning the patient must not eat or drink anything
  • NS: Normal Saline, an IV solution consisting of water and sodium
  • NWB: Non-weight-bearing, an instruction for patients to avoid putting any weight on an injured or surgically repaired lower limb
  • PET: Positron Emission Tomography, which is similar to a CT but involves injecting a radioactive “tracer” into the bloodstream for tracking a disease like cancer
  • PICC Line: Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter, an IV line placed into a vein in the arm and threaded all the way into large veins in the chest cavity
  • Plasma: the liquid portion of blood, transfused intravenously
  • PRBC: Packed Red Blood Cells, a blood product for transfusion
  • Push: to manually inject medications through an IV line
  • Vent: short for “ventilator,” a device that provides mechanical breathing assistance
  • Void: refers to urinating

Once you understand the most common slang, abbreviations and acronyms related to your hospitalization, you can more easily participate in your care, which will help you have the best experience possible.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Where Am I Going? The List of Hospital Unit Acronyms Every Nurse Should Know. Nurse.org. https://nurse.org/articles/hospital-unit-acronyms/
  2. Glossary of Acronym Definitions. Patient Care Link. http://patientcarelink.org/glossary-of-acronym-definitions/
  3. MCN’s Complete Guide to Nursing Abbreviations and Acronyms. Mennonite College of Nursing. https://nursing.illinoisstate.edu/studentlife/resources/nursing-acronyms/