Pharmacy Terminology 101
Let's be honest -- You're at the doctor, or at your pharmacy, and hear a couple terms that just make no sense to you. What does that that mean!? And it's not just once this happens, it seems like it happens almost every time you're there. Understandably, these terms and phrases are completely normal and relevant to their day-to-day as medical professionals, and I'm sure many of us don't even know realize when the terms come out of our mouths that it is not "normal" vocabulary to everyone else.
Whether your feeling anxious about not knowing what your doctor or pharmacist is saying, or trying to decipher what is written on your prescription note, or maybe you're just curious to learn -- here is a list of common pharmaceutical terms to start you off on the journey to better understanding what the heck health care professionals are rattling off to one another! Happy learning and happy understanding!
Hint: to find a term or abbreviation more quickly, hold "control" + "F" on your keyboard and a small search window will come up on your screen. Type the word or abbreviation you are looking for and it will be highlighted throughout the page.
A Absorption rate – The time it takes a drug to enter the bloodstream after it is administered.3 AC – (prescription) – Before a meal.3 Acute – A condition with a fast onset time, severe effect, and short course of duration.3 Admixture – Two or more drugs blended or mixed to create a desired substance or solution.3 Adverse reaction – An undesired or negative response to a medication or drug-drug interaction.2 Agonist – A drug that triggers a receptor to produce a physiologic response.2 Allergy – A highly sensitive reaction to an otherwise harmless substance.2 Amphetamine – A central nervous system stimulant. It is usually prescribed for the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy, obesity and other conditions.2 Ampule – A small sealed glass vial that is to be broken open for use. It usually contains injection solution. 2 Analgesic – Drugs used to reduce or suppress pain. Some of the drugs in this class include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen and morphine.2 Anaphylactic shock/anaphylaxis – A patient’s extreme reaction to something he or she is severely allergic to, such as a bee sting, peanuts or shellfish. It requires emergency medical attention and may be life threatening.2 Anesthetic – A drug that causes anesthesia. Anesthesia is a short-term and reversible loss of consciousness. Anesthetics are used to perform surgeries without patients having to suffer through the pain.2 Antagonist – Drugs designed to block a receptor-mediated effect created by neurotransmitters.2 Antibiotic/antibacterial – Sometimes used interchangeably because they are used for similar purposes. An antibiotic inhibits the growth of or kills a microorganism. An antibacterial suppresses its growth or kills it.1 Anticoagulant – Drugs used to decrease or prevent the formation of blood clots.2 Anticonvulsant – Drugs used to help prevent seizures or to lessen the severity of a seizure.2 Antiemetic – Drugs used to prevent, alleviate or suppress nausea and vomiting.2 Antihistamine – Drugs used to counteract the immune system’s histamine reaction to allergy or respiratory illness.2 Antineoplastic – Drugs prescribed to slow the growth of malignant tumors.2 Antipyretic – Drugs used to prevent or reduce fever.2 Antispasmodic – Drugs used to relieve or prevent muscle spasms.2 Antitussive – Drugs used to suppress or relieve coughing.2 Apothecary – Another word for pharmacist. It also refers to a system of weights and measures.2 Aqueous – When something is or is to be water based.2 Aseptic technique – A sanitation practice performed to minimize contamination by pathogens.2 Auxiliary label – Additional labels placed on prescription packaging that provide supplementary information, various warnings, routes of administrations, etc.2 AWP (average wholesale price) – Found in the pharmaceutical reference book also called the Red Book, the AWP of a drug is the average price at which drugs are purchased wholesale.2 B Bactericidal – Drugs that destroy or kill bacteria.2 Bacteriostatic – Drugs that slow down or inhibit the duplication or growth of bacteria.2 Batch preparation – The process of compounding many of the same pharmaceuticals to have stock but not for immediate use.1 BID – (prescription) – Twice a day.3 Bioavailability – The rate that a drug is made available to the target site of physiological activity.2 Bioequivalence – When a drug has the same biological effect, efficacy or bioavailability as a similar drug with a different formulation.2 Biologic – A therapeutic drug or vaccine made from living organisms.4 Biopharmaceutical industry – The scientific field focused on studying the molecular, cellular, and genetic principles that play a role in drug development.5 Biosimilar – Competitors to the first-in-class biologic product that has an expired patent. These drugs are not considered to be identical to the original product but are considered to be therapeutic alternatives.4 Biotechnology – The modification of living organisms for specific needs. For example, organisms designed to create antibiotics.5 Brand name – A name given to a medication by the manufacturer that often becomes synonymous with its identity.5 Brand product – A product protected by a patent or which has an expired patent. A brand can be an innovator or not.4 Bronchodilator – A drug that widens passages in the lungs to ease breathing.2 Buccal – A process for quick absorption of medication by dissolving a tablet between the cheek and gum.2 C C – (prescription) – With.3 CAP – (prescription) – Capsule.3 CC – (prescription) – Cubic centimeter = Same as 1 mL (milliliter).3 Celsius/centigrade – Standard measure of temperature in science or metric system. Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius and boils at 100 degrees Celsius.2 Chronic – An illness that persists for a long period of time or has frequent recurrence.2 Clinical trials – A multiphased process from drug discovery through post-marketing surveillance to test and monitor the effectiveness and safety of medications or medical devices on large groups of people.5 Closed formulary – Drugs not in an approved list. They require prior authorization or may not be covered by the insurer.2 Coinsurance – A cost-sharing method where a patient pays only a percentage for medication after their deductible is met, and their insurer pays the rest.2 Communicable – Illness or disease that is contagious or transmittable to others.2 Community pharmacy – A community-based pharmacy where the pharmacist does compounding, dispensing and documentation of prescriptions. In addition, this pharmacist provides patient counseling and sometimes consults with doctors.5 Compound – A final substance or solution made from two or more substances.2 Compounding – The creation of a drug mixture to fit the unique needs of a patient. For example, creating liquid versions of medications normally available only in tablet, capsule or caplet form.2 Controlled release – Drug formulations designed to release gradually over a specific time.2 Controlled substance – Drugs that are regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.2 Co-pay – A set dollar amount a patient must pay for a prescription out-of-pocket when it’s dispensed.2 D Deductible – A set amount a patient must pay before an insurance provider will begin paying claims.2 Dehydration – When the body loses water and electrolytes essential for bodily function.2 Diluent – A liquid that decreases the concentration of a solution by diluting it, or turns powder into a liquid.2 Dispense – To prepare and distribute drugs.5 Displacement – Occurs when a fluid volume appears greater because a non-fluid substance is introduced.2 Diuretic – Drugs that increase the body’s urine discharge flow. This decreases overall fluid accumulation.2 Dopamine – A neurotransmitter essential to the normal functioning of the central nervous system.2 Dose/dosage – The specified amount and quantity of the drug to be taken at one time.5 Drop factor – In IV administration, drop factor usually refers to how many drops make up 1 mL (gtts/mL).2 Drug discovery – The process by which drugs are discovered and/or designed.5 Drug therapy – The treatment of disease through the use of drugs. Also called pharmacotherapy.5 E Effervescent tablet – Tablets that emit bubbles when put into water and rapidly dissolve, usually leaving a froth.2 Efficacy – The ability of a drug to produce the desired effect.5 Electrolytes – Fluids commonly administered after dehydration containing sodium and potassium salts. They are designed to maintain or replenish the proper balance of a patient’s electrolyte levels.2 Elimination – Occurs when the body removes waste. In pharmacokinetics, this is the last step in the study process.2 Elixir – A solution that is taken orally and contains one or more active drugs. It is usually alcoholic and sweetened.2 Emulsion – A mixture of two or more liquids that are normally not mixable with each other.2 Enema – An injection of fluid containing suspended drug particles into the rectum.2 Enteric coated – An extra coating on a tablet that controls where in the digestive system a drug will dissolve and be absorbed.2 Expectorant – Drugs that clear out mucus and phlegm.2 Extemporaneous compounding – Following a set or written recipe to compound prescription drugs.2 F Fahrenheit – Standard temperature measurement scale in the U.S. Water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 220 degrees.2 Flow rate – In IV math, it’s the amount of drops that are needed per minute (gtt/min).2 Formulary – A predetermined list of drugs that are considered preferred and acceptable by a therapeutic committee for managed care systems.2 Formulation – A pharmacologic substance prepared according to a formula.5 G Gastrointestinal – Anything relating to the stomach and large intestines.2 Generic drug – A medication not protected by patent, distributed and marketed under its pharmaceutical or chemical name, usually by multiple manufacturers at a lower end-user cost.4 Generic nonproprietary – A drug name not protected by a trademark (like aspirin), usually descriptive of the drug’s chemical structure.5 Grain – Unit of dry measure. There are 437.5 grains per ounce and 15.43 grains per gram.2 Gram – Unit of dry measure. 15.43 grains make up 1 gram. A gram is also 1/1000 of a Kg.2 H Half-life – The amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be eliminated from the body.2 Health maintenance organization (HMO) – A health insurance plan where patients are assigned a primary care physician, who must be initially consulted for everything and then personally refer them to specialists within the organization’s network.2 HEPA – High efficiency particulate air. It is a type of highly effective air filter.2 Hospital pharmacy – Involves all the different components of a hospital system including pharmaceutical supply and delivery, financing, hospital administration and direct patient care.5 Hypnotics – Drugs that slow the central nervous system to reduce anxiety and induce sleep.2 I IM – (prescription) – Intramuscular.3 Inert ingredients – Filler or non-drug ingredients in medication which are inactive.2 Infusion rate – Fluid volume of an IV necessary to deliver enough drug within the time frame the prescriber sets.2 INJ – (prescription) – Injection.3 In-line or post-market drugs – Products that are licensed and in the market.4 Innovator drug – The drug from which generics or biosimilars are made. It is the first product of its type.4 Intracardiac – An injection administered directly into the patient’s heart.2 Intradermal – An injection into the top layer of skin, done at an angle.2 Inventory – A comprehensive list of the assets and items currently and physically in stock.2 Isotonic – A solution with the same tonicity (saline) as human blood.2 IV – (prescription) – Intravenous.3 K Kilo – In the metric system, it means 1,000. Most often used as slang to mean Kilogram (1,000 grams).2 L Label – An informational tag that specifies ingredients, doses, warnings, and potential drug interactions.5 Large molecule products – Known as biologics, these pharmaceuticals contain live active ingredients. They are infused or injected and are not typically self-administered.4 Laxative – Normally prescribed for mild constipation, it is a substance that promotes bowel movement.2 Liter – Fluid measurement in the metric system. 1 liter = 1000 mL; 1 liter = 33.81 ounces.2 Lozenge – Known better as a cough drop. Designed to dissolve in the mouth to sooth and lubricate the throat.2 M Mail order – Mail order services allow patients to receive prescriptions conveniently through the mail.5 Managed care pharmacy – Involves a number of clinical and drug management services for members who are part of an insurance plan.5 Micro – In the metric system, it means 1/million. For example, a microgram = 1/1,000,000 of a gram.2 Milli – In the metric system, it means 1/1,000. For example, a milliliter = 1/1,000 of a liter.2 Misbranded – When a product is labeled or marketed falsely or in a misleading manner.2 MOA – Mechanism of action, the method in which a drug produces an effect on the condition it’s intended to treat.2 Multisource drugs – Any and all the generic drugs (including the innovator) which are competing against each other.4 N Narcotics – Drugs that induce various stages of narcosis to dull the senses. They are typically used to treat pain.2 NS – Normal saline, a solution of 0.9% concentration of sodium chloride in sterile water.2 O Oath of a Pharmacist – This oath is taken by pharmacy students upon graduation. By taking this oath, they voluntarily vow to dedicate themselves to a “lifetime of service to others through the profession of pharmacy.”5 Ointment – A preparation of medication disbursed in a thick fluid, typically used to treat skin disorders.2 Opiate – Drugs that are derived from opium, typically used for pain management.2 Opioid – Synthetic drugs that have the narcotic effects of opium, typically used for pain management.2 Opthalmic – For treatment of, around or in the patient’s eye.2 Orange Book – Published by the FDA, the “Approved Drug Products With Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluations” is available as a resource to help health-care professionals in choosing drugs for generic substitution.2 OTC drugs – Medications sold over the counter, which do not require a prescription.2 Otic – For treatment of, around or in the patient’s ear.2 OZ – (prescription) – Ounce.3 P Parenteral – Drugs administered directly, and not through the intestinal tract.2 PC – (prescription) – After a meal.3 pH Level – A measure of the alkalinity or acidity of a solution. The pH scale ranges from 0-14; 7 is neutral.2 Pharmaceutical care – A principle of practice that concentrates on optimizing the patient’s health-related quality of life, and achieving positive clinical outcomes within economic means.5 Pharmaceutical chemistry – The science of the composition and preparation of chemical compounds used in medication and drug therapies.5 Pharmaceutical sciences – Of or relating to medications.5 Pharmaceutical technology – All of the technologies involved in the development and use of medications.5 Pharmaceutics – A discipline concerned with the design, development and rational use of medications for the treatment and prevention of disease.5 Pharmacoeconomics – The scientific discipline that analyzes the cost of a medication and weighs it against the medication’s benefits, the benefits of similar medications and the potential need for the medication.5 Pharmacogenomics – The study of a patient’s genes and how they affect response to drug treatments. Studying the genetic basis of patient response to therapeutics allows drug developers to more effectively design therapeutic treatments.5 Pharmacognosy – Deals with the nature and sources of natural drugs obtained from plants or animals, either directly or indirectly.5 Pharmacokinetics – The study of the route medications take in the body. How they are absorbed, transformed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated.5 Pharmacology – The science and study of drugs, including the chemistry and biological effects.2 Physician-administered drugs – Any kind of drug that cannot typically be self-administered.4 Pipeline drugs – Drugs under development by a manufacturer.4 Placebo – Commonly referred to as a sugar pill. A placebo contains no medicine, but the patient thinks it does, and results may occur because of this belief. Placebos are mostly used in clinical trials to experiment with groups of people in double-blind studies.2 PO – (prescription) – By mouth/oral.3 Preferred provider organization (PPO) – A health insurance plan that lets members to seek care from network providers without requiring a referral.2 Prescription – An order, usually from a doctor, for the preparation and administration of a medicine, assistive or corrective device (like a wheelchair or crutches), or other treatment.5 PRN – (prescription) – As needed.3 Psychotropic – Drugs that have a psychological effect. They alter a patient’s mind, mood or behavior.2 Public health – The science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community with the use of preventive medicine, health education, control of contagious diseases, application of sanitary measures, and monitoring of environmental hazards.5 Q q – (prescription) – Every.3 q(_)H – (prescription) – Every (_) hours.3 qAM – (prescription) – Every morning.3 qD – (prescription) – Every day.3 qH – (prescription) – Every hour3. QID – (prescription) – Four a day.3 qOD – (prescription) – Every other day.2 qPM – (prescription) – Every evening.2 qWK – (prescription) – Every week.2 R R&D – Research and development. In the context of pharmacy, it relates to the research and development of new medicines.5 Reconstitute – When drugs in powder form need to be mixed with a fluid before they are administered.2 Red Book – Pharmaceutical reference tool used to determine average wholesale price (AWP), suggested retail price and other standardized drug pricing data mainly for third-party insurance billing purposes.2 Regulatory – Controlled by a rule or law.5 Retail drugs – Any kind of drug typically available at a pharmacy counter. Usually billed on a pharmacy claim.4 Route of administration – The prescribed path a drug is to be taken into the body.2 Rx – An internationally recognized symbol or abbreviation for prescription.2 S Scored tablet – A drug tablet with indentations added to make it easier to break into half or quarters.2 Sedative – Drugs that work on the central nervous system to help calm anxiety, stress, etc.2 Side effects – Problems that occur from taking medication in addition to the desired therapeutic effect (for example, sleepiness).5 Sig code – Medical abbreviations and acronyms used in health care to communicate directions.2 Small molecule products – Capsules, tablets, powders, ointments and sprays with no live ingredients that are usually self-administered.4 Solute – A substance dissolved into a solvent to make a solution mixture.2 Solution – A liquid mixture in which the minor component (the solute) is uniformly distributed within the major component (the solvent).2 Solvent – A solvent is usually a liquid that has the ability to dissolve another substance. The most common and available solvent is water.2 Specialty drug – A drug that is costly, requires special supply chain features (such as freezing or cold storage), typically indicated for a small group of patients, and where the patients may need special case management services.5 SQ – (prescription) – Subcutaneous.3 STAT – (prescription) – Immediately.3 Subcutaneous – An IV injection placed into the skin’s subcutaneous layer.2 Sublingual – Under tongue. Often, used for placing a tablet under a patient’s tongue to dissolve.2 Suppository – A drug dosage form that is to be inserted into a body cavity, where it will dissolve and be absorbed.2 Suspension – A liquid solution containing undissolved drug particles suspended in it.2 Symptom – A sign or characteristic that may serve as a clue to determine an illness or disease.2 Syrup – A liquid preparation typically containing a high concentration of sugar (or sugar substitute), a flavoring agent, and active drug ingredients.2 T TAB – (prescription) – Tablet.3 TBSP – (prescription) – Tablespoon.3 Therapeutic – Having or exhibiting healing powers. TID – (prescription) – Three a day.3 Tincture – A drug dissolved in an alcohol solution to make an oral preparation.2 Toxicology – The study of the nature, effects and detection of poisons as well as the treatment of poisoning.5 TPN solution – Total parenteral nutrition, which provides nourishment intravenously when a patient’s digestive tract must be bypassed.2 Transdermal – Administering a drug through the skin, usually with a patch or ointment.2 Trituration – Grinding a solid substance into fine particles for compounding purposes.2 TSP – (prescription) – Teaspoon.3 V Vaporizer – A medical device used for converting a medicated liquid into vapor for inhalation.2 Vasodilator – Drugs that widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely through arteries.2 Vial – A small glass or plastic container with a closure used to contain and store chemicals.2 Vitamins – A group of organic substances essential in small quantities to a person’s normal metabolism. Found in tiny amounts in natural food and produced synthetically for fortification.5
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