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Pharmacy Blog

Understanding Your Prescription

by Team on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 3:28 PM

You’re given a prescription by your doctor and you try to read it. However, you are faced with two problems: First, you can’t decipher the doctor’s handwriting. Second, you need to figure out what those abbreviations mean. Forego the first one, you can’t do anything about that. But you can do something about your second dilemma. Some of the abbreviations are self-explanatory because you have encountered them most of the time. Here are some medical abbreviations worth knowing:

Rx is short for prescription. You always see it printed on the doctor’s prescription pad. After that would be the first two terms that reads like a scientific or chemical name. It is what we usually call the generic name of the drug. It is then followed by a term enclosed in a parenthesis which is the brand name most of us are familiar with. For example, Nifedipine (Adalat), an antihypertensive drug, or Dipenhydramine (Benadryl), an antihistamine.

Now comes the most abbreviated part of the prescription. It starts with this abbreviation: Sig:

It is the section of the prescription that contains the dosage, directions, and doctor’s signature, that’s where the abbreviation Sig came from. After it comes the dosage and directions like ‘#21, take 1 cap TID x 7 days’ which literally means ‘21 pieces, take 1 capsule three times a day for 7 days’. Easy, understandable. But what about q, c, s, gtts, etc.? What do these abbreviation mean?

Let’s begin with q with a line over it - it means ‘every’. So if you see something like ‘q 3h’ it means ‘every three hours’. The c with a line over it is an abbreviation of the Latin word ‘cum’ meaning ‘with’. And the s with a line over it is the opposite of ‘cum’, which is ‘sans’ meaning ‘without’. Therefore, if you see something like ‘q 4h taken c meals’ it means ‘every 4 hours taken with meals’.

BID means twice a day, TID means thrice a day, and PRN means ‘as needed’. It came from the Latin phrase ‘pro re nata’.

Usually, the route of administration is abbreviated. The abbreviation ‘p.o.’ came from the Latin phrase “per orem” meaning ‘by mouth’. IM and ID are used in injectables meaning ‘intramuscular’ and ‘intradermal’. As the word implies, drugs administered intramuscularly have to be injected into the muscles, while intradermally would be just under the skin. For eyes, you usually encounter the abbreviation O.S. and O.D. O.S. means left eye, and O.D. means right eye. And the abbreviation ‘gtts’ means ‘drops’. So the next time you see, ’2 gtts O.S.’ It means ’2 drops on the left eye’.

Abbreviation of dosage forms are very common like tab for tablet, cap for capsule, amp for ampule, sol for solution, supp for suppository, susp for suspension, and inj for injection. So the next time you read your doctor’s prescription, you now know what those abbreviations mean. Don’t forget to ask your pharmacist if you encountered other abbreviations not mentioned here.

Author Team

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