Pharmaceutical Abbreviations - Prescription Drugs, Pharmacy and Doctors Shorthand

Pharmaceutical abbreviations are a convenient shorthand code for doctors and pharmacists in describing directions for the use of medicines and drugs. Hundreds of years ago, prescriptions were all written in Latin because it was the primary language of Western Europe during the Roman Times.

Today, prescriptions still commonly use these abbreviations so it's helpful to be aware of what they are and if you work in the pharmacy business it helps to have a deeper understanding of the meaning for the most common abbreviations.

Although these abbreviations were developed as a tool to help doctors and pharmacists save time, the use of them has been evaluated on the basis that they may frequently cause mistakes on prescriptions and medicine instructions. Doctors are not known for their "perfect handwriting" and pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and doctors are all rushed during their day-to-day tasks so mistakes can be made. It is not far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which "qid" is mistaken for either "qod" or "qd". qid is short for four times a day while qod is short for every other day and qd is short for once a day. Obviously there are drastic differences between those instructions and frequencies. Therefore, the use of abbreviations has been gradually declining.

If you are studying to be a pharmacy technician, or already work in the pharmacy field, you may find the following list helpful. This list may also be helpful to patients that are simply curious or confused about the writing on their prescriptions. If you are a patient and are confused by something regarding your prescription, always check with your doctor.

Common Pharmaceutical Abbreviations


  • qid - four times a day

  • qod - every other day

  • qh - every hour

  • atc - around the clock

  • q wk - once a week

  • ut dict - as directed

  • prn - as needed

  • qd - once a day

  • tid - three times a day

  • hs - at bedtime

  • pc - after meals

  • im - intramuscularly

  • rect - rectally

  • ia - into the artery

  • ou - both eyes

  • os - left eye

  • od - right eye

  • cap - capsule

  • tab - tablet

  • susp - suspension

  • elix - elixir

  • oint - ointment

Another great resource for additional information is "APhA's Complete Review for the Pharmacy Technician".

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