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Updated 05 July 2013

What your prescription says

Doctors are notorious for having particularly bad handwriting, but even when you figure out what's been written down, you still don't know what it means.

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Doctors are notorious for having particularly bad handwriting, but even when you figure out what's been written down, you still don't know what it means.

The reason for this is that certain sections of your prescription are written in Latin, or at least in abbreviations of the Latin language. Latin abbreviations are used to indicate the directions of how to take your medicine, and it's used as a type of shorthand between doctors and pharmacists.

So don't feel stupid if you don't understand your script, because unless you have a medical background, prescription abbreviations will be almost impossible to decipher. But if you learn to understand the medical shorthand you can read your own script, which will help you ask the right questions, and ensure that you are getting the right medication and directions of use from your pharmacist.

Here are some tips to help you see how this works:

Rx: I tab po qid pc & hs

Translates into:

Take one tablet by mouth (po) four times a day (qid), after meals (pc) and at bedtime (hs). The "Rx" in front stands for "recipe" in Latin.

Here is a rundown of commonly used abbreviations.

Abbreviation

Latin Translation

What It Means

a.c.

ante cibum

before meals

b.i.d.

bis in die

twice a day

     

c

cum

with

cap

capsula

capsule

d

dies

day

daw

 

dispense as written (no substituting generic or brand name drugs)

gtt

gutta

drop

h.s.

hora somni

bedtime

I.M.

 

into the muscle

I.V.

 

into the vein

mg

 

milligram

ml

 

millilitre

nocte

 

at night

O.D.

oculo dextro

right eye

O.S.

oculo sinistro

left eye

O.U.

oculo utro

in each eye

p.c.

post cibum

after meals

p.o.

per os

by mouth

p.r.n.

pro re nata

as needed

pil

pilula

pill

qh

quaque hora

every hour

q 3 h

quaque 3 hora

every 3 hours

qAM

 

every morning

qd

quaque die

daily

q.i.d.

quater in die

four times a day

q.o.d

 

every other day

s

sine

without

s.l.

 

under the tongue

tab

tabella

tablet

t.i.d.

ter in die

three times a day

tsp

 

teaspoon

tbsp

 

tablespoon

ut dict

 

as directed by doctor


More about the prescription


Your prescription is usually written on a pre-printed pad with your doctor's name, address, and phone number. And in the blank space he fills in the script, which should include the following:

  • Name of the medicine
  • Medicine dosage
  • How often to take the medicine – times per day
  • When to take the medicine – with or after meals
  • How to take the medicine – orally, externally


Your doctor will also indicate exactly the quantity of medicine the pharmacist should give you and the number of times that your prescription can be refilled.

For schedule 2 medication and up, you will have give your full name and address to the pharmacist.

Okay, so now that you speak doctor, let's put this new-found knowledge to the test:

Your diagnosis is high cholesterol and your script says the following:

Zocor 10 mg.
Rx: i po qhs
Dispense #90
Refill 0 times

This is what it means:

Zocor 10 mg - This is the name of the medication and the dose.
Rx: i po qhs - Your instructions are to take 1 pill, by mouth, at bedtime.
Dispense #90 -You will be given 90 pills, enough for about 3 months.
Refill 0 times -Your doctor has indicated no refills, most likely because she would like to check your blood cholesterol and then decide if you need more medication, or a different dose.

Try again?

Your diagnosis is diabetes and your script says:

Glucophage 500 mg.
Rx: i po bid pc
Dispense #90
Refill 3 times

Here's what it says:

Glucophage 500 mg. - This is the name of the medication and the dose.
Rx: i po bid pc - Your instructions are to take 1 pill, by mouth, twice each day, after meals - this means that you should take this medication right after breakfast and right after dinner.
Dispense #90 -You will be given 90 pills, enough for about 3 months.
Refill 3 times -Your doctor has indicated 3 refills, enough medication for one year. This may mean that your diabetes is "stable" and well controlled on this medication.

Prescription Abbreviations:  use slowly in decline

While Latin terms are still commonly seen on prescriptions, some doctors are gradually retiring use of these old terms and better clarifying their drug orders in plain language.

Since improved readability helps prevent medication mix-ups, it has been recommended that prescribers write out instructions rather than use more ambiguous abbreviations. (For example, write "daily" rather than "qd," the abbreviated Latin term for "every day," which could be misinterpreted as "qid," meaning "4 times a day," or "od," meaning "right eye.")

If you are uncertain about a prescription, don't hesitate to ask you doctor or pharmacist for help. – (Wilma Stassen/Health24, December 2010)

Reviewed by Dr Danie Pauw. Sources: About.com

 
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