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10 Common Medical Abbreviations You’ve Probably Seen and Definitely Should Know

Even if you've finally nailed all of the social media terms—like FOMO, ICYMI and BRB—learning another set of abbreviations, including BPM, ADR and BPM, could just save your life.

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First off, an easy one: you’ve probably calculated your BMI online before, but do you know what it means? “Body Mass Index” is a number that’s used to characterize various stages of obesity, calculated based on your height and weight. Though you might use it as a metric to determine if you should work on dropping a few, Chris Hollingsworth, MD, of NYC Surgical, notes your BMI also plays a part in determining if you’re fit enough for surgery and if your weight is jeopardizing your health in general. “With one-third of Americans obese and another one-third overweight, the number of Americans who die from obesity related causes is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. This makes BMI essential to understand,” he says. To lose weight, try these foods that help you shed the pound ASAP.

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Ever signed up for workout class that tracks your heart rate to make sure you’re actually getting the right amount of exercise for your body? Without knowing it, you were zeroing in on BPM, or “Beats Per Minute.” “To gain the maximum benefit from exercise and to assess your cardiovascular health, it is important to know what your heart rate is,” Dr. Hollingsworth explains. You can usually figure out how your essential organ is doing by counting the number of beats on the pulse of your wrist or over your heart for 20 seconds—then multiply by three to get your beats per minute. If you’re worried about having an irregular rhythm, speak to your doctor ASAP. Don’t miss the surprising signs your heart is unhealthy.

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It may sound trite to say that everyone’s unique, but when it comes to medications, it’s absolutely true. Your personal chemical makeup responds to pills and supplements differently than other person’s, which is why you could easily have an ADR, or “Adverse Drug Reaction.” If you’re sensitive to certain antibiotics or vaccinations, that language is probably in your medical records, Dr. Hollingsworth says. If you are severely allergic to certain prescriptions, you might consider having an “ADR” file in your iPhone, just so an emergency situation doesn’t become more urgent if you’re given a medication your body doesn’t like. These are the super-important questions to ask before you take a prescription medication.

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If you’ve been struggling with irritability or feeling tired all the time, your primary care doctor’s first instinct will be to test your blood. Afraid of needles or not, sit through it because this information can help a medical professional know what’s happening internally. BMP stands for “Basic Metabolic Panel,” which evaluates kidney function, electrolytes, and blood sugar, allowing your physician to know if you’re dehydrated or something more serious might be brewing. Your doctor might not explain BMP to you—or even say it out loud—but when you’re reading your blood test results, Dr. Hollingsworth says, “knowing that this type of common blood test exists has some basic utility in understanding healthcare.” Here’s why you might want to get your blood sugar checked.

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BP or “Blood Pressure” is another way to measure your cardiovascular health. According to Dr. Hollingsworth, it gives you and your doctor insight into potential long-term risk factors. For example, depending on how low or high your BP is, your doctor may explain your chances for struggling with heart attacks or kidney failure in the future. “It is important to know when a healthcare worker is referring to your blood pressure, as it as one of the most commonly used non-invasive tests to screen and follow a patient’s cardiovascular health,” he says. For a pulse (pun-intended) on your BP at all times, many at-home armbands are available, allowing you to track in real-time what’s happening with your heart. Don’t miss the things doctors won’t tell you have healthy blood pressure.

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This medical abbreviation may sound like a grocery store on the corner, but it’s actually the foundation of every medical examination. H&P or “History & Physical” is stands for the steps your doctor takes to diagnosis you when you come in complaining of an ailment. “The history may be highly structured in the form of a series of questions about your current and past health as well as social history, medications you take, allergies, and sometimes much more,” explains Patricia Salber, MD. “The physical exam may be a head-to-toe examination or, if you have an acute illness such as a respiratory infection, it may be focused on your head and neck as well as your lungs.” If you see this terminology on a medical record or an invoice from your insurance company, rest assured it’s a common, essential practice. Check out the secrets to making the most of your next doctor’s appointment.

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Talking about “DNR” isn’t the easiest conversation to have, especially with your aging parents or a friend who has battled health issues much of their life. But as Dr. Hollingsworth says, it’s important to discuss “Do Not Resuscitate”—a choice patients make on how to be treated in the case of a terminal life event. Since this is legally binding, if you or your loved one puts this on your medical file, a doctor cannot take emergency measures to restart your heart in the event that it stops. “If this occurs in a hospital and there is no DNR order in place, a Code Blue, will be called,” Dr. Salber explains. “This code activates medical staff who are responsible for rushing to the patient’s bedside and performing all of the interventions available to try to reverse the dire circumstances and stabilize the patient if possible.” From there, if the patient is left with no brain activity, deciding to keep them on life support is disheartening decision no one wants to have to make. Establishing a DNR can help families avoid difficult, painful choices.

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Regardless of how old you are or if you’ve lived a mostly healthy life so far, chances are pretty high that at some point, your medical file will list “LBP” as a complaint. As Dr. Hollingsworth says, this abbreviation, which stands for “Lower Back Pain,” is one of the most common frustrations that doctors hear about. Because it has many possible causes—from a poorly made bed or a pulled muscle to being dehydrated or something more serious—our backs can be a gateway to many health issues. So when your doctor asks how you’ve been feeling lately? Make sure not to leave that nugget of information out. Here are 10 secret reasons for your back pain.

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Ever get home from the pharmacy, where you declined the lengthy explanation on how to take your medicine, only to figure out that, um, you forgot if you should take it a.m. or p.m.? Your prescription bottle should include basic directions, but if it doesn’t, Dr. Salber offers a quick lesson on what all of those “Q” abbreviations mean. In short, QHS, QOD, and QPM are your guide to taking meds, in Latin. While QOD stands for “Quaque Altera Die,” meaning every other day, QID is “Quarter In Die,” meaning four times a day. And QHS? That’s “Quaque Hora Somni” or, every evening at bedtime. No need to memorize any more though, as Dr. Salber says, “In the past, these abbreviations may have shown up on your prescription bottle, but now almost all prescription instructions are written in English and come with an accompanying detailed instruction sheet.”

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When you’re medical intake form at the emergency room says “SOB,” you’re almost guaranteed to be seen by a doctor ASAP. Why’s that? Your doctor isn’t cursing at you, but rather, listing that you reported “Shortness of Breath” as one of your symptoms. Since this super-important bit of information can help diagnose lung, heart, or life-threatening illnesses, Dr. Salber suggests always being very clear about how you’re feeling to get the best medical attention you need. And if you really can’t manage to get anything out by SOB? Your doc will know what you mean.

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