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Correct and Preferred Usage

Roxanne K. Young

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Subscriber: null; date: 13 December 2018


  • Many words have found their way into medical
  • vocabularies with unusual meanings that are not
  • recognized even by medical dictionaries. Such
  • writings may be characterized as medical jargon
  • or medical slang. When these words appear in
  • medical manuscripts or in medical conversation,
  • they are unintelligible to other scientists, particularly
  • those of foreign countries; they are not translatable
  • and are the mark of the careless and uncultured
  • person.
  •    Morris Fishbein, MD17
  • I have laboured to refine our language to gram-
  • matical purity, and to clear it from colloquial
  • barbarisms, licentious idioms, and irregular
  • combinations.
  •   Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

Words and phrases that can be understood in conversation but are vague, confusing, or depersonalizing are generally inappropriate in formal scientific writing (see also 7.5, Grammar, Diction; 11.1, Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases; and 20.9, Study Design and Statistics, Glossary of Statistical Terms).


Preferred Form

4+ albuminuria

proteinuria (4+)

blood sugar

blood glucose

cardiac diet

diet for a patient with cardiac disease


medical record

chief complaint

chief concern

congenital heart

congenital heart disease; congenital cardiac anomaly

emergency room

emergency department



gastrointestinal infection

gastrointestinal tract infection or infection of the gastrointestinal tract

genitourinary infection

genitourinary tract infection or infection of the genitourinary tract

heart attack

myocardial infarction

hyperglycemia of 250 mg/dL

hyperglycemia (blood glucose level of 250 mg/dL)

jugular ligation

jugular vein ligation or ligation of the jugular vein




laboratory test results

left heart failure

left ventricular failure [preferred, but query author]; left-sided heart failure

normal range

reference range

Pap smear

Papanicolaou test

the patient failed treatment

treatment failed


premature infant



psychiatric floor

psychiatric department, service, unit, ward

respiratory infection

respiratory tract infection or infection of the respiratory tract

status post

after; following


operations or surgical procedures


symptoms [query author]

therapy of [a disease or condition]

therapy for

treatment for [a disease or condition]

treatment of

urinary infection

urinary tract infection or infection of the urinary tract

The following terms and euphemisms should be changed to preferred forms:



expired, passed away, succumbed



killed; humanely killed [query author]

Avoid trivializing or dehumanizing disciplines or specialties. For example:

Osteopathic physician and osteopathic medicine, not osteopath and osteopathy

Cardiologic consultant or cardiology consultation, not cardiology [for the person]

Orthopedic surgeon, not orthopod

Colloquialisms, idioms, and vulgarisms should be avoided in formal scientific writing. Exceptions may be made in editorials, informal articles, and the like.

When the administration of drugs is described, intra-articular, intracardiac, intramuscular, intrathecal, intravenous, intraventricular, intravitreal, oral, parenteral, rectal, subconjunctival, subcutaneous, sublingual, topical, and transdermal are acceptable terms when these are the usual or intended routes of administration. Except for systemic chemotherapy, however, drugs are usually neither systemic nor local but are given for systemic or local effect.

Some topical corticosteroid ointments produce systemic effects.

Oral penicillin is often preferred to parenteral penicillin.

Intravenously injected heroin may be contaminated.

Exceptions: Local anesthetics are a class of drug. Techniques for delivering anesthesia are general, local, and regional. Certain drugs may be inhaled.

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