Medical prescription abbreviations - Guide to read.

Medical prescription abbreviations - Guide to read.

It can be rather difficult for an ordinary person to read a prescription written by a doctor since there we can find a lot of abbreviations. Moreover, some of them look like written in an unfamiliar language and this is quite natural. For centuries doctors wrote prescriptions only in Latin and still they have been using plenty of Latin words. To this, names of modern medicines can be added which are not understandable for untrained people either. And, of course, doctors are forced to use abbreviations and scribble (yes, we just admire their scrawled handwriting) to save time for examining numerous patients. So there is no wonder if you can’t decipher what is scribbled in your prescription and you are not alone. Let's sort it out together!

What is Rx?

These mysterious letters may be often seen at the very top of prescription making your wonder about the meaning. Don’t worry, Rx stands for «prescription» (from Latin «recipe») and also can be found in phrases «Rx only» or «Rx drug» (prescription medicine). So if you discover such an addition in your prescription, don’t lose it or you won’t be able to buy necessary medicines at a pharmacy.

Rx (prescription)

What to take?

Medicines come in different forms, so if you see «cap» in your prescription, buy capsules, while «tab» means tablets.

cap (capsules)
tab (tablets)

How to take?

Medicines can be taken orally either «po» (per os) meaning you should take a drug by mouth, swallowing it, or «sublingual» meaning you should dissolve a medicine under the tongue. Besides, drugs can be administered: IM (intramuscularly), IV (intravenously), SC or SQ (subcutaneously) and PR (by rectum). When it comes to instilling eyes drops, you may find instructions like «od» (oculus dexter - right eye), «os» (oculus sinister - left eye), «ou» (each eye). If you discover «au» in your prescription, then it is about ears (each ear).

po (per os)
IM (intramuscularly)
IV (intravenously)
SC (subcutaneously)
SQ (subcutaneously)
PR (by rectum)
od (oculus dexter - right eye)
os (oculus sinister - left eye)
ou (each eye)
au (each ear)

When to take?

Sometimes you are prescribed to take a drug «ac» (ante cibum), i.e. before eating, sometimes «pc» (post cibum), i.e. after eating and sometimes «prn» (pro re nata) meaning as you need it. When it is recommended to take a medicine for a night, there may be either «qHS» (Hour of Sleep), or «hs» (hora somni) in a prescription. If you see «bid» (bis in die), take a medicine 2 times a day; «tid» (ter in die) - 3 times and «qid» (quater in die) - 4 times a day. Dose frequency may specified as «q 3 h» (quaque 3 hora) - every 3 hours and the number may differ. «qd» (quaque die) means «every day» while «QAM» is «every morning».

ac (ante cibum)
pc (post cibum)
prn (pro re nata)
qHS (Hour of Sleep)
hs (hora somni)
bid (bis in die)
tid (ter in die)
qid (quater in die)
q 3 h (quaque 3 hora)
qd (quaque die)
QAM is «every morning»

How much?

Dose of medication can be given in ml (milliliters), g (grams) or gtts (gutta - drops).
Sure, there are much more abbreviations that can be found in prescriptions, but they are more specialized and more commonly found in medical records.

ml (milliliters)
g (grams)
gtts (gutta - drops)

Full list of medical prescription abbreviations.

Medical abbreviationLatinMeaning
BNFBritish National Formulary 
adadup to 
a.d.aurio dextraright ear 
ad libitumuse as much as one desires; freely 
alt. h.alternis horisevery other hour 
a.l.aurio laevaleft ear 
a.s.aurio sinisterleft ear 
A.T.C.around the clock 
a.u.auris utraeboth ears 
b.i.d.bis in dietwice daily 
B.M.bowel movement 
bol.bolusas a large single dose (usually intravenously) 
B.S.blood sugar 
ccumwith (usually written with a bar on top of the "c") 
cccum ciboswith food, (but also cubic centimetre) 
cfwith food 
D5Wdextrose 5% solution 
D5NSdextrose 5% in normal saline (0.9%) 
D.A.W.dispense as written 
dieb. alt.diebus alternisevery other day 
d.t.d.dentur tales dosesgive of such doses 
D.W.distilled water 
e.m.p.ex modo prescriptoas directed 
ex aqex aquain water 
ft.make; let it be made 

Other Medical Acronyms and Abbreviations