ACLS – Advanced Cardiac Life Support; clinical interventions for the urgent treatment of cardiac arrest, stroke and other life-threatening medical emergencies

Acute – an illness that is of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care

Acquired – Developing after birth

Addiction – A chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, and memory. Dysfunction in some areas of the brain leads an individual to pursue a reward or relief by abusing a substance (i.e.: drugs, alcohol) or behavior (i.e.: dieting, exercise, sex) to get that reward. Addiction is characterized by inability to abstain, having impaired behavioral control, cravings for the substance or behavior, lack of recognition of any problems in an individual’s behavior or social relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission.

AIDS – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. A disease in which there is a severe loss of the body’s cellular immunity, decreasing its resistance to infection and malignancy. The last stage of an HIV infection.

Alzheimer’s Disease – progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.

Analgesic – pain relieving drug or treatment

Anemia – a condition marked by a deficiency of red blood cells or of hemoglobin in the blood, resulting in pale skin and weariness

Aneurysm – an excessive localized enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall

Angina – strong chest pain that comes on quickly

Anorexia Nervosa – a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Binge-Eating/Purging Type – involves binge eating and/or purging

Restricting Type – does not involve binge eating or purging

Anxiety – a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying

Arthritis – painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. Symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion in the joints.

Arrhythmia – irregular heart beat

Asthma – a condition in which airways narrow and swell, and produce extra mucus.  This makes it difficult to breathe, and can trigger coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath

Asystole – the heart is no longer beating

Autoimmune Disease – a condition arising from an abnormal immune response to a normal body part.  Eg: systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease, type I diabetes, Graves disease, IBD, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritus


Binge Eating Disorder – an eating disorder characterized by recurring episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort). It can also include feeling a loss of control during the binge, experiencing shame, distress, or guilt afterwards, and using unhealthy compensatory measures (eg, purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States ( disorder)

Bipolar Disease – aka manic-depressive illness; brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.  Includes Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Cyclothymic, and other unspecified disorders.  

BMI – Body Mass Index. A person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. Used as a screening tool for obesity.

Bradycardia – slowed heart rate

Bulimia Nervosa – a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting (purging) designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.


Cancer – an abnormal mass of tissue in which the cells do not stop dividing and become immortal. This mass can spread into surrounding tissues, and lead to the formation of tumors.

Cardiovascular Disease – conditions involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or stroke.

Cellulitis – skin infection

CHF – congestive heart failure

Chronic – persisting for a long time, or constantly recurring

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – a medical condition of unknown cause; Symptoms include: fatigue, loss of memory or concentration, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes in arms/armpits, unexplained muscle pain, pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness, headache of a new type, pattern, or severity, unrefreshing sleep, extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise.  

Comorbidity – the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient

Congenital – Present from birth

COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – progressive lung diseases characterized by chronic obstruction of airways that interferes with normal breathing.  Includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis

Crohn’s Disease – a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, especially the colon and ileum (large intestine) associated with ulcers and fistulae

Cyanotic – skin and mucous membranes (ie: gums) are bluish in color due to inadequate oxygen supply

Cystic fibrosis – lung disease that causes the production of thick mucus in the lungs, hard to breathe


Dementia – a chronic disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury. Symptoms include memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. This decline in mental ability is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common type.

Depression – a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.  

DNR – Do Not Resuscitate

Diabetes – a group of diseases that affect how the body makes or uses blood sugar (glucose).  Diabetes indicates an increase in the amount of glucose in the blood, which can lead to serious health problems.

Diabetes type I: the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed, leading to an absolute insulin deficiency.  Insulin must be given to the patient before and/or after meals to prevent hyperglycemia.

Diabetes type II: the body becomes resistant to the action of insulin, requiring an increased amount of insulin to prevent hyperglycemia.  The patient may also have an inadequate secretion of insulin from the pancreas.

Dialysis – the procedure to filter blood for patients with kidney failure (and those who have overdosed or been poisoned)

Diaphoresis – sweating

Disease – a disorder of structure or function, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms, or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury

Diuresis – increased urine production

Diverticulitis – inflammation of the colon (large intestine)

DOA – Dead on Arrival

Dyspnea – shortness of breath


Eating Disorders – any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. These disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues, and can have life threatening consequences for both men and women. Eg: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder.

ECG/EKG – Electrocardiogram – measures heart activity

Edema – excessive accumulation of fluid

EEG – Electroencephalogram – measures brain activity

Embolus – a blood clot

EMS – Emergency Medical Services

EMT – Emergency Medical Technician

Episodic – occurring occasionally and at irregular intervals

Epstein-Barr – human herpesvirus 4, spreads commonly through body fluids (saliva, blood, semen).  Causes infectious mononucleosis (mono).  Virus remains latent in infected patients, and may reactivate, causing patients to become contagious again.  Symptoms include: fatigue, fever, inflamed throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, enlarged spleen, swollen liver, rash.  Disease usually lasts 2-4 weeks, but fatigue may continue for months.  


Fibromyalgia – chronic pain disorder that causes widespread pain and tenderness to touch that may occur systemically or migrate over the body.  These symptoms wax and wane over time.  Additional symptoms include: fatigue, sleep disturbances, memory problems, stiff joints, headaches, IBS, GERD.

Foley – type of catheter, thin flexible tube inserted into the urethra to drain the bladder


GERD – Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease, occurs when stomach acid (and occasionally stomach content) flows back into the esophagus.  This chronic reflux irritates the lining of the esophagus and causes GERD.  GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, which is associated with a risk of developing esophageal cancer.


Heart Disease – includes cardiovascular disease as well as muscular and rhythm disorders of the heart, and disorders involving the heart valves.

Hemorrhage – the dramatic and sudden loss of blood

Herd Immunity – Herd Immunity occurs when a high percentage of a population is vaccinated and provides a measure of protection for those persons who have not developed immunity to a certain disease. This indirect protection is due to the disease not being spread by those vaccinated, permitting little contact between the disease and those not vaccinated against it. Learn more here!

HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A sexually transmitted infection that interferes with the body’s cellular immune response (specifically, the CD4 or T cells).

Hyper– increase/higher than normal levels (hyperglycemia = increased glucose, hypercalcemia = increased calcium, hyperlipidemia = increased fat)

Hypo– decreased/lower than normal levels (hypoxia = low oxygen levels in the blood, hypotension = low blood pressure, hypothermia = low body temperature)


IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome; affecting the large intestine, causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation

IBD – Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis

Illness – a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind

Immunity – the balanced state of having adequate biological defenses to fight infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasion, while having adequate tolerance to avoid allergy, and autoimmune diseases.

Infarction – an area of tissue dead due to a local lack of oxygen (eg: myocardial infarction)

Infection – the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi) that are not normally present within the body.  Microorganisms that live naturally in the body (ie: bacteria in the mouth and intestine) are not infections

Infectious – likely to be transmitted or spread to others in a rapid manner

Intubation – insertion of a tube into the trachea to help a patient breathe

Ischemia – when the heart is lacking oxygen

IV – intravenous, through the vein




Latent – in which the usual symptoms are not yet manifest; dormant or hidden

Localized – remaining at one location (eg: an infection)

Lumbar Puncture – aka Spinal Tap, withdrawal of cerebrospinal fluid through a needle inserted into the lumbar region of the lower back, between the vertebrae


Malignancy – the state or presence of an invasive or dangerous tumor

Meningitis – inflammation of the meninges (membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord)

Morbidity – Disease, the rate of disease.  In the case of Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) Conferences, the presentation of an interesting diagnosis.

Mortality – Death.  In the case of Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) Conferences, the presentation of a case that ended in the patient’s death, followed by a discussion of the steps taken by medical staff to make sure there was no administrative or human error on the part of the institution

Myocardial infarction – the heart muscle is denied oxygen, aka heart attack

M&M – Morbidity/Mortality – conference held by institutional departments on cases that ended in death (mortality) or interesting diagnoses (morbidity)


Necrotic – dead, as in “necrotic tissue”

NG Tube – nasogastric tube, a tube passed from the nose to the stomach to provide a means of feeding when oral feeding is not possible or adequate.

NICU – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Nosocomial infections – opportunistic infections contracted while in the hospital (ie: a urinary tract infection developed from a catheter)

NPO – Nothing By Mouth


Obesity – the condition of weighing more than what is considered healthy for a given height. BMI is used as a screening tool: BMI of 30.0 or higher is considered obese.

Osteoporosis – Decreased bone strength that can result in broken bones.


PCP – Phencyclidine – causes euphoria and hallucinations in humans

PEG– Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy.  A surgical procedure by which a tube (PEG tube) is passed into a patient’s stomach through the abdominal wall, to provide a means of feeding when oral feeding is not possible or adequate.

Pericardium – the sac that envelopes the heart

Peritoneum – a transparent membrane enclosing the abdomen

Pleura – the lining around the lung

Preexisting Condition – any condition for which a patient has already received medical advice or treatment prior to enrollment in a new medical insurance plan

Pregnancy – the period from conception to birth.  Usually lasts 40 weeks, divided into trimesters.   


Primary Prevention – prevent the disease or injury before it occurs [prevent exposure (legislation to ban/control substances), altering unhealthy/unsafe behaviors (education, seatbelt and helmet law), increasing resistance (immunization)]

Secondary Prevention – reduce the impact of a disease/injury that has already occurred.  Detecting/treating disease ASAP to halt or slow progress (regular exams, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings), encourage personal strategies to prevent injury/recurrence (daily aspirin, diet & exercise programs), implementing programs to return people to original health and function (modified work)

Tertiary Prevention – soften the impact of an ongoing illness or injury that has lasting effects through management (stroke rehabilitation programs, chronic disease management, support groups to share strategies, and vocational rehabilitation programs to retrain people to improve as much as is possible a person’s ability to function, their quality of life, and life expectancy.

Primary Care – health care at a basic level, used for people making an initial approach to a doctor or nurse for treatment



Retro – behind (retrocardia = behind the heart)


Schizophrenia – mental disorder marked by hallucinations, delusions, and disintegration of the thought process

Sepsis – a very severe and serious infection, usually not limited to one area of the body

Shock – a problem with circulation (blood flow), indicated by: severe drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, clammy and pale skin, and a rapid heart rate

Specialty Care – health care focused on one specialty or branch of medicine (eg: surgery, obstetrics, cardiology, etc)

Stasis – slowing or stopping of blood flow

STD/STI – Sexually Transmitted Disease/Sexually Transmitted Infection

Stroke – a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving the brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Prompt treatment and early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.

Sub– Under (Subdural = under the brain, sublingual = under the tongue)

Sub-clinical – causing no symptoms, not apparent on physical examination

Systemic – bodywide (eg: an infection)


Tachycardia – an extremely rapid heart rate (pulse > 100 bpm)

Thrombosis – blood clot

Triage – system of prioritizing patients in an emergency situation when there are a large number of patients to be seen (eg: in an emergency, large scale incident)


Ulcerative Colitis – chronic inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine and rectum

UTI – Urinary Tract Infection


Vaccine – an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins.  This agent provides an active, acquired immunity to a disease caused by the microorganism by stimulating the immune system to recognize the agent as a threat, destroy it, and keep a record of it so it can be more easily recognized and destroyed in the future.

Vaccine Preventable Disease – an infectious disease for which an effective prevention (ie: vaccine) exists

Vector – an organism, typically a biting insect or tick, that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another