Dictionary: words you hear in hospital

  • A

    Acute: A term used to describe an illness or disease process which comes on very quickly, is severe, or occurs over a short period of time.

    Adolescent: A young person between the ages of 12–20 (a teenager).

    Adolescent Transition Program: Adolescent transition is the process that young people aged 15–19 living with a chronic illness need to go through in order to move on from a children's hospital to an adult healthcare service.

    Afebrile: A fever or high temperature is not present.

    Allergist/Immunologist: A specialist doctor skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies and immune system problems.

    Ambulant/Ambulation: Able to walk; walking.

    Ambulatory: An outpatient (not admitted or staying in the hospital). An Ambulatory Care Centre or Clinic is where hospital outpatients are seen. 

    Anaesthetic: A medication used to cause numbness or loss of feeling of the skin and surrounding tissue before a small operation or medical procedure. It is called a local anaesthetic or a 'local'. A different type of anaesthetic is given before an operation or medical procedure and causes you to fall asleep and not remember anything. It is called a general anaesthetic or a 'general'.

    Anorexia: A temporary loss of appetite or being unable to eat enough food because of illness. This only lasts a short time – usually a few days or until the illness goes away.

    Anorexia nervosa: A chronic and serious psychiatric illness, which may be mistaken for general anorexia, but is not the same thing.

    Aphasia: Inability to speak. This may be an acute or chronic problem.

    Ataxia: A loss of coordination, for example difficulty walking.


    Bacteria: A 'germ' or 'bug' which is capable of causing an infection.

    Benign: Not dangerous or causing cancer (e.g. a 'benign tumour').

    Biopsy: A small sample of tissue that is usually surgically removed so it can be tested for diseases.

    Blood pressure: The force of blood against the walls of the arteries. It is measured with a cuff (called a sphygmomanometer) that is placed on the upper arm or lower leg and inflated to give a numerical reading (such as 120/65). The reading is used by doctors and nurses to see if a patient needs certain medicines, fluids and so on.

    Bradycardia: Slow heart rate. There are different ranges of normal heart rate for different age groups.


    Cardiologist: A doctor that specialises in diseases and disorders of the heart.

    Catheter: Also called a urinary catheter, is a soft tube that is inserted into the bladder to allow urine (wee) to flow out. It is sometimes put in before or after surgery, to get a urine sample to test for infection (especially in small children) or when urine measurements need to be accurate.

    Centre for Adolescent Health: The CAH provides medical and emotional support for young people aged 10–24.

    ChIPS (Chronic Illness Peer Support): A program for young people aged 12–25 who live with a chronic health condition.  Participants attend an eight-week group program, social events and camps.

    Chronic: Long term or permanent (such as a disability).

    Code grey: This code is called when an unarmed person is acting aggressively. It can be called by staff who feel threatened by patients or visitors to the hospital. A team responds that help calm the person down.

    Constipation: Irregularity or inability to use the bowels (do a poo). The hard faeces (poo) cause straining and may result in small tears to the anus (bottom) and bleeding.

    Contagious: When an infection or disease can be passed on to others.

    CT (computerised tomography) or CAT scan: A test that shows a three dimensional image of your body. It is similar to having an X-ray.

    Cyanosis: Discoloration of the skin caused by a lack of oxygen in the body, usually seen as a blue tinge around the lips.

    Cyst: A fluid filled sac that grows in the body.


    Dermatologist: A doctor who specialises in diseases or disorders of the skin.

    Diarrhoea: Frequent, very runny bowel movements.

    Dysphagia: Inability or difficulty in swallowing saliva or food.

    Dysphasia: Difficulty in speaking or finding the right words.


    ECG (electrocardiogram/graph): A test used to measure the electrical activity in the heart. It is quick and painless and is done by applying sticky dots or stickers attached to leads onto the patient's chest, arms and legs and obtaining a 'picture'. It usually takes a couple of minutes.

    Education Institute: The Ed Institute provides educational support to young people whose schooling is affected by time in hospital or their medical condition.

    EEG (electroencephalograph): A test used to measure electrical activity in the brain. It involves applying sticky dots and leads to obtain a 'picture' of the brain's activity.

    EMG (electromyogram): A test to determine nerve function.

    Enema: A fluid is placed into the anus (bottom) to cause a bowel movement. It is most commonly used as a treatment for severe constipation.

    Epidermis: The outer layer of skin.

    Epistaxis: A nose bleed.


    FAC (Family Advisory Council): A council formed in 2008, made up of a diverse range of family members whose children (or grandchildren) have had experiences with the hospital.

    FBE (full blood examination): A routine blood test which is used to examine the make-up of the blood.

    Febrile: High body temperature or fever (over 38ºC in babies; over 38.5ºC in children).


    Gastroenterologist: A doctor who specialises in diseases and disorders of the stomach and digestive system.


    Haematologist: A doctor that specialises in diseases or disorders of the blood.

    Hepatologist: A doctor who specialises in diseases or disorders of the liver.

    Hypertension: High blood pressure.

    Hypotension: Low blood pressure.


    ICU (Intensive Care Unit): A unit/ward were very unwell patients are treated.

    IM (intramuscular): A medicine which is injected into a muscle (such as a vaccination).

    Immunosuppression (immune deficiency or weakened immune system): When the immune system isn't able to fight infections as well as normal or not at all. This is sometimes caused by medications (such as chemotherapy) or certain illnesses.

    IV (intravenous): This term refers to a 'drip' – a small, flexible tube which is inserted into a vein to deliver fluid therapy or medications.


    Laxatives: A group of medicines which can help relieve constipation by promoting a bowel movement.

    Livewire: A support network for young people aged 12–21 who live with, or have a sibling with, a chronic health condition.

    Lumbar puncture/spinal tap: A procedure where a needle is inserted into the lower part of the spinal column (spine, or back) to collect fluid for testing.


    Mental wellbeing: The complete wellbeing and optimal development of a child, including their emotional, behavioural, social and cognitive (intellectual) development.

    Mentor: A person who helps a young person when needed and can give support.

    MET (Medical Emergency Team) call: A MET call can occur in any medical emergency situation across the hospital. A team of health professionals will help the person in need. You shouldn't go to investigate the call if it is not your child because you might get in the way. Parents/carers and other visitors are able to make MET calls if required. Either ask a staff member to make a MET call by speaking to them directly, pressing the nurse call button or the emergency bell at the end of your child’s bed, or dial 22 22 from any hospital telephone. Ask the operator to make a MET call and tell them where you are, for example your child’s ward and room number.

    Microshield: Hand sanitiser that doesn't need water.

    MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: A painless test that uses a strong magnetic field to get clear pictures of specific body parts, such as the brain or stomach. The patient lies in a special machine like a tunnel.


    Nausea: Feeling as if you are going to vomit.

    Neurologist: A doctor that specialises in diseases and disorders of the brain and the nervous system.

    NG (nasogastric) tube: A soft tube that is passed through the nose and into the stomach and is used to feed, administer medications or withdraw stomach contents.

    Nutritionist: A specialist who gives advice on diet and nutrition.


    Oncologist: A doctor that specialises in cancers and their treatments.

    Otolaryngologist: A doctor that specialises in the ears, nose and throat. Also known as an ENT.


    Paediatric: The practice of specialist medicine for children under the age of 18 years.

    Pathologist: A specialist that identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues.

    Pharmacist: The hospital pharmacist is part of the hospital's healthcare team, and ensures the safe and effective use of medicines throughout all areas of the hospital.  

    Physiotherapist (physio): A health care professional who helps people dealing with physical weakness or difficulties as a result of an illness or injury. Physios specialise in muscles and their surrounding tissues.

    Pulmonologist: A doctor that specialises in the diseases or disorders of the lungs.

    Pulse/heart rate: The number of times the heart beats in one minute. A pulse can be felt in the wrists, the neck or measured by an ECG machine.


    Radiologist: A doctor that specialises in interpreting pictures (X-rays and other scans) of the body.


    Spirometer: A test that is used to asses lung function.

    SpO2 or oxygen saturation (sometimes just called sats):The amount of oxygen in your body and blood. This is measured by a probe which is placed on a patient's finger, toe or foot. It is painless. The readings show the amount of oxygen in the blood (as a percentage). This observation is taken on almost all patients.

    Starlight Express Room: A fun (medical free) place to hang out. It's located on the ground floor (Beach) of the North Building.

    SC (subcutaneous): A medicine which is injected underneath the layers of skin.


    Tachycardia: Fast heart rate.

    Trigger: Something causes a symptom to occur in someone who has a medical condition, for example, pollen can trigger an asthma episode, heat can trigger a flare-up of eczema, being stressed can trigger a migraine headache. The trigger is not the cause of the actual medical condition. A trigger can also set off a disease in someone who has a genetic predisposition to developing the disease, for example a viral illness may trigger the first signs of multiple sclerosis.


    U&E (urea & electrolytes): A specific blood test that checks the amount of waste products, potassium, magnesium and calcium in your body.

    Ultrasound: The use of sound waves to see the inside the body.

    Urinalysis: An examination of a urine (wee) sample, usually to check for infection or other abnormalities. Also called a full ward test (FWT) or dipstick.

    Urologist: A doctor that specialises in diseases or disorders of the urinary system and the male reproductive system.


    Volunteer: A person who volunteers their time to help the hospital and is unpaid. Volunteers wear pink lanyards.


    X-ray: A test which uses electromagnetic radiation to view the bones in the body, to check for fractures (breaks) and other abnormalities. It is sometimes used to check for a foreign body (such as something you may have swallowed).


    Y@K (Youth at the Kids, Youth Advisory Council or YAC): A group of young people who have an interest in the development and improvement of the RCH.

    Many thanks to The Royal Children's Hospital patient who developed this fact sheet. Reviewed by the General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed June 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit  www.rchfoundation.org.au.


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.