Glossary of Surgery Words and Phrases



One of the most irritating habits of surgeons is their tendency to use medical jargon when talking to patients and their families. It is hard enough for people to figure out how serious their condition is and what is going to happen to them during surgery. Doing so while having it explained to them in a “foreign” language adds needless stress to the situation. Listed below in this glossary of surgery words and phrases are some commonly used words and expressions that pertain to surgery.

A line – abbreviation for arterial line, a very thin and small hollow tube that is placed in an artery. Allows second to second monitoring of blood pressure and allows nurses to draw blood for testing. Can be placed in wrist, groin or ankle.

ABD - abbreviation for army battle dressing. These bandages are often seen in documentary footage of injured soldiers as the white fluffy bandages taped onto head wounds.

ABG – abbreviation for arterial blood gas, a small sample of blood removed from an artery and analyzed in the lab. Provides information on the amount of oxygen in the blood and how well the lungs and kidneys are working.

ACS – abbreviation for American College of Surgeons, a professional group requiring board-certification and attainment of other practice parameters for entry.

adhesions – scar tissue that forms between loops of bowel after surgery performed in the abdominal cavity.

adenocarcinoma – a type of malignancy where the cancerous cell is columnar in shape.

a fib – slang for atrial fibrillation, an irregular beating of the “top” chambers of the heart or atria.

AMA – abbreviation for American Medical Association

appendectomy – surgical removal of the appendix.

atrium – one of two chambers in the heart that receives blood. The right atrium receives blood from the vena cava before pumping it to the right ventricle and the left atrium receives blood from the pulmonary arteries before pumping it to the left ventricle.

atrophy – wasting away or shrinkage of a body part or tissue.


ATLS – abbreviation for Advanced Traum Life Support, a formal program of requirements to standardize and improve trauma care by hospitals and physicians.

bariatric surgery – area of surgery that describes procedures performed to cause weight loss

bifid – this means a body part or tissue has cleft into two parts or branches.

bile – substance made in the liver, stored in the gallbladder and secreted into the duodenum when a person eats. It aids in digestion of fats.

blepharoplasty – surgery on the eyelids; usual meaning is for a cosmetic improvement.

blood gas – see ABG above.

bradycardia – a slow heartbeat. In adults this means a rate of less than 60 beats per minute.

bursa – sac-like structure filled with thick fluid that prevents certain tissues from rubbing against each other.

c diff – abbreviation for Clostridium difficile infection, a serious and potentially life-threatening overgrowth of bacteria in the colon, usually caused by antibiotic use.

carcinoma – another word for cancer.

cardiac – another word for heart.

cecum – the very last two inches of the small bowel and the transistion area between the ileum (see below) and the first part of the colon (see below). In normal anatomy it lies in the right lower part of the abdominal cavity.

cholecystectomy – surgical removal of the gallbladder. Used to be performed with the “open” technique using an incision of about six inches under the right rib cage. Now most commonly performed using “laparoscopic” technique (see entry below).

colectomy – surgical removal of all or a part of the colon.

colon – the large bowel.

craniotomy – surgical opening made in the skull to allow access to the brain.

creatinine – a waste product made by the body and passed out of the body in the urine. The normal value is less than 1.0.

CRNA – abbreviation for certified registered nurse anesthetist.

CT – abbreviation for computed tomography

distal – describes position of body part that is farther from the center. Example: the proximal leg is the calf.

duodenum – the first part of the small bowel.

EGD – abbreviation for endoscopic gastroduodenosopy (placement of scope into esophagus and stomach).

erythrocyte – another word for red blood cell.

ET tube – abbreviation for endotracheal tube, or the proverbial “breathing tube”

extubate – removal of the hollow breathing tube from the mouth or nose and windpipe. Usually means the patient is capable of breathing on their own.

femur – the large bone running from the knee to the hip. Also called the thigh bone.

fibrosis – scar tissue.

fibula – the smaller “outside” bone of the two bones of the lower leg. It runs from just under the knee to the ankle.

Foley catheter - hollow plastic tube placed into the bladder to drain urine.

forceps – large, tweezer-like surgical instruments used for grasping tissue.

gastric – another word for stomach.

genicular – relating to the knee. Ex. – the genicular arteries are the many small arteries surrounding the knee.

hepatic – another term for liver.

IM – abbreviation for intramuscular; some medications are given IM via a needle and syringe.

IV – abbreviation for intravenous; medications and fluids are typically given this way to inpatients.

IVC – abbreviation for inferior vena cava.

JP – abbreviation Jackson Pratt drain; used to remove fluid or blood after surgery; has a suction bulb that can be emptied by the patient or nursing staff.

Lasik – a specific surgical procedure for vision correction.

MRSA – abbreviation for methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

orthopedic – pertaining to the bone; examples of orthopedic surgeries are hip and knee replacements and spine surgery.

OT – abbreviation for occupational therapy.

PA – abbreviation for acronym for physician assistant.

perioperative – the time just before and/or just after surgery.

po – abbreviation for per os, meaning by mouth.

PT – abbreviation for physical therapy.

renal – another term for kidney.

scut – term used by medical professionals (particularly medical students and residents) for the “busy work” of providing health care; looking up lab test results, removing drains, calling referring doctors.

Swan – used as either a noun or a verb. As a noun it refers to a Swan-Ganz catheter which is a long plastic catheter placed through the subclavian or jugular vein into the right atrium, into the right ventricle, and out the pulmonary artery into the lung vasculature. As a verb it means to place the Swan-Ganz catheter.

trach – slang for tracheostomy or a breathing tube placed surgically into the trachea that exits the skin of the neck.

urologist – a physician who specializes in disorders of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, prostate, penis, urethra, and scrotum.

USMLE – acronym for the United States Medical Licensing Exam. There are three parts that every medical student who trains in the US must pass – steps 1, 2, and 3.

VAP – abbreviation for ventilator associated pnemonia

vtach – ventricular tachycardia, a life-threatening heart rhythm where the ventricles (lower heart chambers) contract without stimulus from the atria (upper heart chambers).

VRE – abbreviation for vancomycin resistant enterococcus.

whack – slang term for surgery.

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1 Comments to “Glossary of Surgery Words and Phrases”

  1. dhivine puguon says:

    ……wow! I’ve learned a lot of abbreviations on here……keep shining….

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