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Aspiration

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Updated October 06, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

Aspiration is a medical term referring to sucking in fluid. When you drink soda through a straw you are aspirating it into your mouth. In first aid and medical care there are two common uses of the term that you'll see:

  • Getting fluids (or small solid particles) into the airways (trachea or lungs). People can aspirate food or fluids into their airways while eating, a common complication of stroke patients or head injury victims learning to eat again. In most cases of drowning, some water is aspirated into the airways. Unconscious victims who vomit may also aspirate some of the emesis into their airways. Newborns who have their first bowel movement (called meconium) in the womb before birth run the risk of meconium aspriation, a life-threatening condition.

    Aspiration is different than choking because the airway is not completely blocked -- air still flows if not very well. Aspirating small bits of food or fluid can cause shortness of breath, pneumonia (specifically called aspiration pneumonia) and infections of the lungs.

  • Drawing fluid through a tube or needle into a syringe or other suction device. Procedures that draw a bit of fluid from the body (other than from a vein) are usually referred to as aspiration procedures. Also, clearing the airway or mouth with a suction device is called aspiration. The next time you hear a doctor say "we're going to aspirate a little of the cyst and analyze it" you'll know what she's talking about.
Pronunciation: as-per-AY-shun
Also Known As: suction
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