A Technician's Guide to Pharmacy Abbreviations

NOVEMBER 25, 2015
Ryan Marotta, CPhT, Assistant Editor
Few technicians enter the pharmacy profession with aspirations of working as translators, but many find themselves playing that role the moment they step behind the drop-off counter.
Those who have difficulty decoding a prescriber’s directions can refer to the following guide, which lists many of the abbreviations and sig codes that are commonly found on prescriptions; however, there is currently no guide that can help techs or pharmacists decipher a prescriber’s handwriting.
Note that prescribers may omit periods where they are included below, and often capitalize a number of abbreviations that are listed in lowercase.
Abbreviation Meaning Notes
aa of each Derived from Latin, ana
AAA apply to affected area  
a.c. before meals Derived from Latin, ante cibum
a.d. right ear Derived from Latin, auris dextra
ad lib. as much as desired; freely Derived from Latin, ad libitum (“at one’s pleasure”)
a.m. morning; before noon Derived from Latin, ante meridiem
amp. ampule  
amt. amount  
APAP acetaminophen  
aq. water Derived from Latin, aqua
a.s. left ear Derived from Latin, auris sinistra
ATC around the clock  
a.u. both ears Derived from Latin, auris utraque
bib. drink Derived from Latin, bibe
b.i.d. twice a day Derived from Latin, bis in die
BP blood pressure  
bucc. inside cheek Derived from Latin, bucca
c. with Derived from Latin, cum; often written with a bar above it
cc cubic centimeter (cm3) Less commonly used as an abbreviation for cum cibo (“with food”)
cap. capsule  
cm centimeter Also used as an abbreviation for cream
d. day Derived from Latin, dies
DAW dispense as written  
d.c.; d/c discontinue  
dil. dilute  
disp. dispense  
div. divide  
dL deciliter  
DR delayed-release  
EC enteric-coated  
EOD every other day  
ER; XR extended-release  
et and Derived from Latin, et
f., ft. make; let it be made Derived from Latin, fiat
fl. fluid  
FXD for 10 days X = Roman numeral for 10
g, gm gram  
gal gallon  
gr. grain  
gtt. drop Derived from Latin, gutta
h., hr., hor. hour Derived from Latin, hora
HCT; HCTZ hydrochlorothiazide  
h.s. at bedtime Derived from Latin, hora somni (“at the hour of sleep”)
ID intradermal  
IM intramuscular  
IN intranasal  
inf. infusion  
inh. inhalation  
inj. injection  
IR immediate-release  
IU international unit  
IV intravenous  
K potassium  
kg kilogram  
L liter  
lb pound Derived from Latin, libra
liq. liquid  
lot. lotion  
m meter  
max. maximum  
mcg; μg microgram μ = Greek letter mu
MDP Medrol Dosepak Pre-dosed packaging of methylprednisolone (Medrol)
mg milligram  
min. minimum  
mL milliliter  
mm millimeter  
neb. nebulizer  
NSAID nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Drug class that includes ibuprofen (Motrin)
o.d. right eye Derived from Latin, oculus dexter
ODT oral disintegrating tablet  
oint. ointment  
o.s. left eye Derived from Latin, oculus sinister
OTC over the counter  
o.u. both eyes Derived from Latin, oculus uterque
oz ounce  
PA prior authorization  
p.c. after meals Derived from Latin, post cibum
p.m. evening; after noon Derived from Latin, post meridiem
p.o. by mouth; orally Derived from Latin, per os
p.r. rectally Derived from Latin, per rectum
p.r.n. as needed (for) Derived from Latin, pro re nata
pt pint  
p.v. vaginally Derived from Latin, per vaginam
q every; per Derived from Latin, quaque
q12; q. 12 h.; q12° every 12 hours 12 can be substituted with any number
q1-2; q. 1-2 h.; q1-2° every 1 to 2 hours 1 and 2 can be substituted with any number
q.a.d.; q.o.d. every other day Derived from Latin, quaque alternis die
q.a.m. every morning; every day before noon Derived from Latin, quaque anti meridiem
q.d. every day Derived from Latin, quaque die
q.h.s. every day at bedtime Derived from Latin, quaque hora somni
q.i.d. 4 times a day Dervied from Latin, quater in die
qt quart  
qty. quantity  
q.p.m. every evening; every day after noon Derived from Latin, quaque post meridiem
q.s. a sufficient quantity Derived from Latin, quantum sufficiat
q.w. every week  
Rx prescription Derived from Latin, recipere (‘to take”)
s. without Derived from Latin, sine; often written with a bar above it
SC; SQ; SubQ subcutaneous  
sig. write; label Derived from Latin, signa
SL; s.l. sublingually; under the tongue  
SOB shortness of breath  
sol. solution  
SSRI selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor Drug class that includes escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluoxetine (Prozac)
stat. immediately Derived from Latin, statim
supp. suppository  
susp. suspension  
syr. syrup  
tab. tablet  
TAD take as directed  
tbsp tablespoon  
t.i.d. 3 times a day Derived from Latin, ter in die
top. topical  
troch. lozenge Derived from Latin, trochiscus
tsp teaspoon  
U unit  
u.d., ut. dict. as directed Derived from Latin, ut dictum
ung. ointment Derived from Latin, unguentum
w. with  
w/f with food; with meals  
w/o without  

Looking to test your knowledge of sig codes through some particularly difficult-to-understand prescriptions? Try reading some of these Rxs!