Lets face it. Doctors can be hard to understand.
And if it seems like they sometimes have their own language, it is because they do. Using medical terminology helps doctors be more precise in what they are saying and how they are describing things to other health professionals.
For example, the term clinodactyly means that a child has a deformity, usually congenital, in which one or more of their fingers are curved inwards. Why say clindodactyly instead of just saying the child's finger is curved? The main reason is that if your just described the finger as being curved, you wouldn't know which way it was curved or why it was curved. The single word clinodactyly has all of that extra information implied in its definition.
Fortunately, parents often aren't exposed to the medical terminology that health professionals use. Most doctors 'translate' these medical terms into more every day words when they are describing things or talking to parents.
Understanding Your Doctor's Prescription
One situation where it would be helpful for a parent to understand medical terminology is when they are given a prescription. Although it is only meant to be understood by the pharmacist, understanding what your prescription says can be a good double-check to prevent medical errors.
When reading the prescription, you will commonly see the medication's name (either the brand or generic name) and then its strength, either the number of mg for a tablet or capsule or the number of mg per 5ml (a teaspoon) for a liquid medicine.
Next, the prescription will list the directions, including how much your child is supposed to take and when. This area of the prescription is sometimes labled 'Sig'. Terms you will see here include:
how the medicine is taken (the route of administration):
- po = to take by mouth (per orum)
- pr = to take per rectum (a suppository)
- sq = a subcutaneous shot under the skin
- au = each ear (ad = right eye, as = left eye)
- ou = each eye (od = right eye, os = left eye)
how much to take:
- cc = ml = the number of cc's or ml's to take. Remember that 5cc (or 5ml) is equal to one teaspoon.
- tsp = teaspoon
- tbs = tablespoon
- tab or cap = tablet or capsule
- gt = drop
when to take it:
- qd = once a day
- qhs = once a day, at bedtime
- qam = once a day, in the morning
- qac = before meals
- qpc = after meals
- bid = twice a day
- tid = three times a day
- qid = four times a day
- q 8 hours = every 8 hours
- qod = every other day
- prn = as needed
The prescription will then list how long to take the medicine, but that is usually easily understandable, for example 7 days (x7days), 10 days (x10d), 2 weeks, etc.
And it will then list how much of the medication the pharmacist is supposed to 'dispense'. It is important to look at this and compare it to how much you are given so that you don't get shorted. Parents sometimes complain that they ran out of medicine before they were supposed to, and the main way that can happen, if they were giving the medication correctly, is if they weren't given enough medicine initially.
Understanding Your Child's Medical Records
The other situation in which you may want to understand medical terminology is if you are reading a copy of your child's medical records. Your best bet in this situation is having a medical dictionary handy so that you can look up words that you don't understand. You should be able to find a medical dictionary in any bookstore or library, but there are also many online medical dictionaries available that you could use.
Common terms and abbreviations that you are likely to see in a child's chart include:
- AGE = acute gastroenteritis (stomach virus)
- Allergic rhinitis = hay fever
- AOM or OM = acute otitis media (ear infection)
- ASD = atrial septal defect
- BMI = body mass index
- BOME = bilateral OME (fluid in both ears)
- BPD = broncho-pulmonary dysplasia
- CBC = complete blood count test
- CP = cerebral palsy
- FTT = failure to thrive
- FUO = fever of unknown origin
- FWLS = fever without localizing signs
- GER = gastroesophageal reflux
- HA = headache
- HSM = hepatospenomegaly (enlarged liver and spleen)
- IVH = intra-ventricular hemorrhage
- LAD = lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph glands)
- LGA = large for gestational age
- MR = mental retardation
- Nocturnal enuresis = bedwetting
- OME = otitis media with effusion (fluid in the ear)
- Otitis externa = swimmer's ear
- ROP = retinopathy of prematurity
- SGA = small for gestational age
- Tinea Capitis = ringworm on the scalp
- Tinea Corporis = ringworm
- VSD = ventricular septal defect
- VUR = vesicoureteral reflux
Understanding Your Doctor
Another situation where it would be helpful for you to understand medical terminology is if your doctor actually uses these terms to describe your child's medical condition to you. But instead of carrying a medical dictionary to your appointments, if you don't understand something your Pediatrician says, ask for a better or easier to understand explanation. Remember that your doctor will likely assume that you understand things if you don't ask any questions.
Also, to avoid miscommunication, you should avoid using medical jargon yourself, unless you are sure you understand a word's meaning. Parents often use the word 'lethargic' incorrectly, which can lead to unnecessary treatments or trips to your Pediatrician's office.