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Glossary of Emergency Medical Terminology

Emergency medical service has its own unique terminology. Here is a glossary of terms.

Looting
Looting is thought to break out after almost every major disaster, natural or man made.

Acute Myocardial Infarction
Definition of a heart attack. Also known as an acute myocardial infarction.

Advanced Life Support
A level of care provided by prehospital emergency medical services. Advanced life support consists of invasive life-saving procedures including the placement of advanced airway adjuncts, intravenous infusions, manual defibrillation, electrocardiogram interpretation, and much more.

Adverse Effect - Definition of Adverse Effect
Learn the definition of adverse effect

Agonal Respirations
Irregular, gasping breaths often seen during cardiac arrest. In most cases, rescuers will see victims take these gasping breaths no more than 10 to 12 times per minute; that's one every five to six seconds. Agonal respirations do not provide adequate oxygen to the body and should be considered the same as no breathing at all (respiratory arrest).

Air Ambulance
Air ambulances are used when patients need to be transported over long distances more quickly than ground ambulances can accomplish, or when the use of ground ambulance is impossible. Air ambulance transportation can originate from the scene of a medical emergency or from one medical facility to another.

Alveoli - Definition of Alveoli
A single air sac is called an alveolus, but you can't do much with just one microscopic air sac.

Ambulance
A vehicle used to transport sick or injured people with medical needs. A prehospital emergency medical services provider tends to the sick or injured occupant during transportation. Ambulances can be cars, trucks, helicopters, boats, or airplanes.

Anaphylactic Shock
Anaphylaxis resulting in a collapse of the circulatory system and a dangerous decrease in blood pressure. Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate treatment.

Anaphylaxis
Severe, often life threatening, generalized allergic reaction. Unlike a typical allergic reaction, anaphylaxis affects more than one body system.

Anatomical Position
A basic position that all anatomical references assume. The subject is standing, looking straight ahead with arms hanging down at both sides and palms facing forward. In most cases, the toes are pointed down as well.

Anatomy
The study of the structure of the body.

Anterior
Front of the body.

Aphasia
Inability to create or understand speech. Aphasia is a disorder of the brain's speech center rather than the anatomical structures that are used to create speech (mouth and vocal cords) or understand it (ears). Aphasia is usually caused by an injury to the brain or from a stroke.

Apnea
From the Greek a- (no or none) and -pnea (breathing or air), meaning the absense of breathing. In many cases, victims of apnea are also suffering from cardiac arrest, and should receive CPR. Victims of apnea may have some gasping breaths known as agonal respirations.

Arachnoid Layer
The arachnoid layer acts as a cushion between the dura mater and the pia mater. Bleeding in the arachnoid layer is known as a subdural hematoma, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Aspiration - Definition of Aspiration
Aspiration is a term heard often in medical settings. It means different things depending on whether the patient is doing it or the doctor.

Asthma
Asthma is a medical condition that causes narrowing of the small airways in the lungs. Typically, asthma patients develop wheezing and have increased mucous production in their lungs. Asthma patients can have episodes of increased shortness of breath, often triggered by allergic reactions. Asthma sufferers often have the disease for many years,...

Asystole
Definition of asystole

Avulsion
Soft tissue injury where a flap of tissue has been removed or is barely attached. Avulsion also may refer to an injury of the bone where a tendon or ligament has been ripped away from its insertion point.

Basic Life Support
A level of medical care provided by prehospital emergency medical services. Basic life support consists of essential non-invasive life-saving procedures, such as CPR, bleeding control, splinting broken bones, artificial ventilation, and basic airway management. Basic life support level providers include emergency medical technicians and...

Behind-the-Counter Drugs
Behind-the-counter medications are not exactly over-the-counter or prescription medications.

Broken Bone
Some lay terminology needs definition and broken bone is such a term.

Cardiac Arrest
Definition of sudden cardiac arrest.

Cell - Definition of Cell
Learn the definition of a cell.

Chest Compressions
Chest compressions are often used in conjunction with rescue breathing. Learn the full definition of chest compressions.

Choking
Choking is the blocking of an airway due to a foreign object lodged in the throat or windpipe. Choking victims who cannot speak or cough need to have the object removed immediately so they can breathe.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) consists of two primary conditions: pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both conditions interfere with the ability to move air in and out of the lungs.

Closed Fracture
Closed and open fractures are treated exactly the same way, other than bleeding control.

Closed Head Injury
Closed head injury results in swelling or bleeding within the skull, which can lead to brain damage or death.

Collapsed Lung
Collapsed lung is a condition that causes the lining of the lung to pull away from the wall of the chest. The space between the lung and the chest fills with air, pushing the injured lung against the heart and the other lung. Collapsed lung can occur as a result of chest injury, or spontaneously in patients with lung disease.

Complete Fracture
Oblique fractures and comminuted fractures are good examples of complete fractures.

Compound Fracture
Compound fractures, open fractures and closed fractures are treated exactly the same, except for bleeding control.

Concussion
Concussions are common in combat operations, and more information about the consequences of concussions and multiple concussions is coming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CPR
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR, combines compressions of the chest with rescue breathing to keep blood flowing through the body and brain while delivering oxygen to the bloodstream. CPR is the first step in treating cardiac arrest in hopes of providing time for first responders to arrive.

Crepitus
The way crepitus feels depends on how it's created.

Cyanosis
Cyanosis is usually seen where blood flows close to the surface -- lips and fingernails are the most common.

Deformity - Definition of Deformity
When assessing potential injuries, paramedics look for deformities, as well as bruising and swelling.

Diaphoresis
Diaphoresis can come from pain, lack of oxygen or sugar in the bloodstream, or from fear.

Diphenhydramine
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine sold over-the-counter. Diphenhydramine is also sold as a sleep aid.

Direct Pressure
Direct pressure is used when trying to address a wound. Learn the full definition of direct pressure.

Disease
Cancer, diabetes, pneumonia, hepatitis, asthma and the flu are just some examples of diseases.

Dislocation
If the kneecap (patella) slides off the front of the knee, it is known as a patella dislocation.

Dura Mater
Dura mater is latin for tough mother and refers to mom's protective duty.

E911
Definition of E911. Learn the meaning and correct usage of E911.

Elastic Bandage
Elastic bandages should only be used during the first two days following an injury along with rest, ice and elevation.

Emergency Medical Services
Any part of a system designed to respond to medical emergencies and provide prehospital or in-hospital treatment. Often refers to ambulances and first responders, though emergency medical services (EMS) include all services necessary to help ill or injured people return to the state of health they enjoyed before their emergencies.

EMT
A certified healthcare provider who is trained to treat and transport victims of emergencies. Emergency medical technicians (EMT) provide basic life support to victims. Emergency medical technicians may work in the emergency department, fire department, public gatherings and factories, but most importantly the certification is aimed at providing...

Epidural Hematoma
Epidural hematomas may not show any signs of injury at first, then develop quickly into severe symptoms like coma.

Epiglottis
Here, learn the definition of epiglottis.

Fight or Flight Response
Fight or flight refers to the two choices our ancestors had when facing a dangerous animal or enemy.

First Aid
Simple emergency medical care procedures intended for lay rescuers to perform before emergency medical professionals are available. May refer to emergency medical providers, such as ambulance and other first responders.

First Responder
Often, first responder is used as a general term for all emergency service personnel who are expected to respond to medical emergencies or large-scale disasters. A public safety official -- such as a police officer or firefighter -- certified to provide basic life support skills.

Flail Chest
These segments of broken ribs got the name flail chest because the segments flail back and forth opposite from the rest of the chest wall.

Fracture
What's the difference between a fracture and a break?

Greenstick Fracture
Kids commonly get incomplete fractures known as greenstick fractures.

Incomplete Fracture
Incomplete fractures are common in kids and are known as greenstick fractures.

Larynx
Learn the definition of larynx.

Local Reaction - Definition of Local Reaction
What's the difference between a local and a systemic reaction? Learn the definition of a local reaction.

Mechanism of Injury
A low-speed fender-bender in a parking lot is much less likely to cause a life-threatening injury than a rollover accident on the freeway. A gunshot wound has more potential for serious injury than a fistfight.

Medical Alert System
Definition of a medical alert system, including the different types and other names for the same thing.

Medical Condition
A condition may also be a disease or a sign of a disease.

Meninges
An infection of the meninges is known as meningitis and can be life-threatening.

Multi-Casualty Incident - Definition of Multi-Casualty Incident
Multi-casualty incidents are declared to make treating several patients more efficient and to allocate resources to provide the best care to the most people.

Nasopharyngeal Airway
Learn the definition of nasopharyngeal airway.

Necrosis
Necrosis is common in crush injuries, burns, frostbite, infections and envenomation. A severe skin infection known as necrotizing fasciitis got its name from necrosis.

Online Medical Control
When taking care of a patient in the field, paramedics must sometimes communicate with a physician.

Open Fracture
Closed and open fractures are treated exactly the same except for bleeding control.

Organ - Definition of Organ
Understand how tissues, cells and organs work in the human body.

Organ System - Definition of Organ System
Definition of organ systems as well as a list of all organ systems in the human body.

Oropharyngeal Airway
An airway adjunct placed in the mouth to help keep the pharynx open.

Over the Counter
What's the difference between a prescription and an over-the-counter medication?

Paramedic
Paramedics provide advanced life support to victims. Paramedics may work in the emergency department, fire department, public gatherings and factories.

Pharynx
Learn the definition of pharynx.

Physiology
Study of the function of the body.

Pia Mater
Pia mater is latin for little mother and refers to mom's protective duty.

Posterior
Back of the body.

Prehospital
The type of medical care provided at the scene of a medical emergency. Assumes the ultimate goal of emergency medical services is to transport the victim to the hospital.

Prescription
Prescription medications are not available without an order from the doctor.

PSAP
Definition of PSAP. Learn the meaning and usage of PSAP.

Rescue Breathing
Rescue breathing is often used as a compliment to chest compressions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Learn the full definition of rescue breathing.

Respiratory Arrest
The absense of breathing or presence of agonal respirations. In most cases, victims of respiratory arrest are also suffering from cardiac arrest, and should receive CPR.

Scope of Practice
It is in the paramedic scope of practice to give injections through muscle, under skin or directly into a vein. Paramedics are not usually licensed to suture wounds.

Shock
In first aid, the term "shock" has three distinct definitions.

Side Effect - Definition of Side Effect
Glossary definition of side effects with example.

Sign
When driving along the highway, we rely on signs to tell us where to go. When conducting a medical assessment, healthcare providers rely on signs to tell them what is wrong.

Splint
When someone has a fractured limb, they may be advised to wear a splint. Learn more about how a splint is useful in this definition.

Standing Orders
Paramedics and EMTs need to know how to handle medical emergencies. Standing orders are one way to do it.

Subcutaneous Emphysema
Subcutaneous emphysema can be a sign of collapsed lung (pneumothorax).

Subdural Hematoma
Subdural hematomas make take days or weeks to develop after an impact to the head.

Symptom
Asking the patient about his or her symptoms is the subjective part of a healthcare provider's assessment.

Systemic Reaction - Definition of Systemic Reaction
What's the difference between a local reaction and a systemic reaction? Learn the definition of systemic reaction.

Tissue - Definition of Tissue
Understand the role of body tissues.

Trachea
Here you'll learn the definition of trachea.

Triage
Definition of Triage -- a method of sorting by medical severity.

Unconscious - Definition of Unconscious
Victims are usually considered unconscious if they can't wake up enough to interact normally with the rescuer, but it's not that simple.

Ventricular Fibrillation
Definition of ventricular fibrillation.

Ventricular Tachycardia
Definition of ventricular tachycardia

Vertigo
Vertigo can be a sign of inner ear infection or a life-threatening loss of blood pressure.

Wheezing
Most of the time, wheezing is only heard with a stethoscope placed on the chest. In severe cases, wheezing can be heard without a stethoscope.

Necrotic Arachnidism - Definition of Necrotic Arachnidism
There is only one spider in North America known to cause necrotic arachnidism.

Emesis
As a medical term, emesis is quite effective and versatile. However, the lay terms are much more colorful.

Emesis
As a medical term, emesis is quite effective and versatile. However, the lay terms are much more colorful.

Distal
Distal is one of the hardest anatomical terms to understand for new students.

Distal
Proximal is one of the most commonly misunderstood anatomical terms.

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