If you work in natural language processing for medical text, you will definitely encounter medical abbreviations. Even if you’re not working with text data, you may still encounter medical abbreviations in data file names or row/column headers. Here’s a quick summary of some common medical abbreviations.


  • dx: diagnosis
  • tx: treatment
  • hx: history
  • sx: symptoms
  • fx: fracture
  • rx: prescription

Diseases (clinicians usually spell out each letter of the abbreviation in conversation)

  • ACS: acute coronary syndrome
  • COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (common in smokers)
  • MI: myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • ASCVD: atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
  • BPH: benign prostatic hyperplasia (large prostate)
  • CAD: coronary artery disease (heart disease)
  • CHF: congestive heart failure (heart doesn’t pump well anymore)
  • CVD: cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
  • ESRD: end-stage renal disease (kidney disease)
  • IBD: inflammatory bowel disease
  • IBS: irritable bowel syndrome
  • OA: osteoarthritis
  • OSA: obstructive sleep apnea
  • PE: pulmonary embolism (clot in the blood vessels of the lungs)
  • TIA: transient ischemic attack (mini stroke-like event)
  • UTI: urinary tract infection
  • URI: upper respiratory infection (e.g. a cold)

Diseases (clinicians usually speak the abbreviation as if it’s a word)

  • ARDS: acute respiratory distress syndrome (pronounced ‘ards’; rhymes with ‘cards’)
  • GERD: gastroesophageal reflux disease (pronounced ‘gird’; rhymes with ‘bird’) (reflux)
  • MAC: mycobacterium avium complex (pronounced ‘mack’)
  • POTS: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (pronounced ‘pots’ like ‘flower pots’)

From here, * indicates a concept where the letters of the abbreviation are usually spelled out in conversation; unstarred concepts are usually spoken of via their un-abbreviated terms


  • ABG*: arterial blood gas (can reflect lung function and kidney function via acid/base levels)
  • BMP*: basic metabolic panel
    • Na: sodium
    • Cl: chloride
    • BUN*: blood urea nitrogen (pronounced ‘B-U-N’ with each letter spoken, not sounded out ‘bun’ like a bread bun)
    • K: potassium
    • CO2, HCO3: bicarbonate (‘bicarbonate’ or ‘bicarb’)
    • Creatinine (measures kidney function)
    • Gluc: glucose (sugar levels)
  • CBC*: complete blood count
    • WBC: white blood cells (part of the immune system)
    • Hgb, Hb: hemoglobin (hemoglobin is what physically carries oxygen throughout your body)
    • Hct: hematocrit (how thick is your blood)
    • Plt: platelets
  • ESR*: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (related to inflammation)
  • RBC*: red blood cell (filled with hemoglobin in order to carry oxygen)
  • MCH: mean corpuscular hemoglobin (how much hemoglobin per red blood cell)
  • CSF*: cerebrospinal fluid (fluid around the brain and spinal cord)
  • INR*: international normalized ratio (measures blood clotting)

Procedures & Imaging

  • CT*: computed tomography (medical imaging based on x-rays)
  • PET: positron emission tomography (pronounced ‘pet’ like ‘my pet dog’) (medical imaging based on radioactive tracers)
  • MRI*: magnetic resonance imaging (medical imaging based on magnets)
  • CABG: coronary artery bypass grafting (pronounced ‘cabbage’; a procedure to reroute blood flow around blockages in heart blood vessels)
  • ECG*: electrocardiogram (record of electrical signals of the heart)
  • EEG*: electroencephalogram (record of electrical signals of the brain)


  • NSAID: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (pronounced ‘EN-sade’; rhymes with ‘when-made’)
  • OTC*: over the counter

Subsection Headings of Medical Notes

  • HPI: history of present illness (what’s the story that brought the patient here today?)
  • PMH: past medical history (what medical conditions did this patient already have / what medical issues have they previously experienced that are relevant?)
  • FH: family history (e.g. ‘mother died at age 90 of breast cancer’)
  • SH: social history (e.g. occupation, substance use, living situation)
  • ROS: review of systems (questions about all body systems)
    • HEENT: head-ears-eyes-nose-throat
    • CV: cardiovascular (heart)
    • GI: gastrointestinal (gut organs)
    • GU: genitourinary (reproductive and urinary systems)
    • MSK: musculoskeletal
  • PE: physical exam
    • Vitals: vital signs
      • T: temperature
      • BP: blood pressure
      • HR: heart rate
      • RR: respiratory rate

References & Additional Resources

Some of the abbreviations listed in the following resources are not very common, but these pages can still be a useful place to look up unfamiliar abbreviations. Usage of certain abbreviations varies regionally and across medical sub-specialties.

Medical abbreviations might seem hard to read until you get used to them, but at least they’re not cuneiform! This clay letter was mailed over 4,000 years ago.

Featured Image: more cuneiform