How to Understand Medical Prescriptions.

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If you’ve tried to read a medical prescription in the past, you may have found it to be completely unintelligible. Aside from the fact that doctors are notorious for their bad handwriting, medical prescriptions in general can be tough to crack due to their abbreviations and use of Latin.

Although it may not seem particularly necessary to understand medical prescriptions since you’ll be handing it over to a pharmacist anyway – it can be helpful. Simply put if you’re able to understand your prescription it could help to avoid any errors as you’ll be able to check and understand the details of the medication you’re being prescribed.

Assuming you’d like to do that, here’s what you need to know:

  • Drug Name

The drug name on a medical prescription will normally be the generic name for the drug. In some cases doctors may subscribe particular brands however, and if so it will be noted as such with “DAW” (Dispense As Written) or “No Substitutions”.

  • Dosage

Essentially the dosage of the medication is the amount that you have to take. It can be tricky as there are several abbreviations that are often used such as ‘i’, ‘ii’, ‘iii’ meaning 1, 2, or 3 doses, ‘gtt’ for drops, ‘cap’ for capsules, ‘ss’ for one-half, and so on.

  • Frequency

Technically the frequency that you need to take your medication involves two separate bits of information: How often you need to take the medication, and when you need to take it.

Once again abbreviations are freely used in this area, with ‘ad lib’ or ‘prn’ denoting that you can take it as needed, ‘bid’ meaning twice a day, ‘q3h’ or ‘q4h’ meaning every 3 hours or 4 hours respectively, ‘qd’ meaning every day, and so on. The typical abbreviations for when you need to take it are ‘ac’ for before meals, ‘pc’ for after meals, ‘hs’ for at bedtime, and ‘int’ for between meals.

  • Usage instructions

Last but not least your prescription should contain some usage instructions that will provide details as to how the medication should be used – if necessary. These instructions will normally be preceded by the phrase ‘sig’ and may include further abbreviations as well.

As you can see the trick to understanding medical prescriptions is to know what to look for, and understand the lingo that is being used. For the former it may help to check out some of the prescription templates at On the other hand for the latter you may want to find a glossary of commonly used medical abbreviations, or just look them up on a case by case basis.

All said and done you should be able to decipher your medical prescriptions much better now, and understand the gist of them even if you may struggle with the specifics and some abbreviations. If you have any questions you should make it a point to ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification, so that you fully understand the medication that you’re being prescribed.






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