How Can I Decode Doctor Talk And Test Results

Decoding Doctor Talk

Table of Contents

Decoding Doctor Talk And Jargon

When visiting your doctor, decoding doctor talk can be difficult. You would be forgiven for thinking decoding doctor talk is speaking a foreign language. One that sounds like your language, yet you can’t understand a word they are saying. Decoding Doctor talk is essential to ensuring you maintain great health and good doctor patient relationships.

The best example of needing to decode doctor talk is when your physician sends you for some tests, and the results come back. You sit there actively listening to them, listing off a long line of letters, yet you genuinely have no idea what they mean.

Is that good or bad? Am I healthy or three weeks away from dying? Give it to me straight in laymen’s terms! So, let’s decode doctor talk.

First Aid Skills Help Decode Doctor Talk

Before we do that, another way to clarify and understand medical terms is to take a FACE First Aid course. If you are not certified in CPR or First Aid, now is the perfect time to find an accredited First Aid registered training organisation’s website and book your place on the next available course near you.

In no time, you will have a clear understanding of medical terms and jargon and decode doctor talk to speak the language. Until then, here are some common terms, words, and phrases you will likely hear when visiting a medical facility.

Decoding Doctor Talk: Jargon And Medical Tests

Idiopathic: Defined in the dictionary as “arising from an obscure or unknown cause,” this is the term doctors use when they can’t explain what is causing a patient’s symptoms or condition, despite thorough examination and the standard battery of tests to rule out the known possibilities. In layman’s terms, idiopathic means: This is a mystery to me, and I have no answers to give you. You have officially confounded me about the cause or origin of your presenting condition.

CBC: Complete Blood Count. This test contains four separate measurements. The two most important are:

  • The white blood cell (WBC) count is usually higher than the baseline average when a bacterial infection is present.
  •  CBCs can come back lower than the average baseline indicating there may be some form of viral infection like HIV.
  • If low, the haemoglobin level (RBC) could indicate blood loss, cancer, kidney problems, malaria, and anaemia, to name a few common issues.

BMP: Basic Metabolic Panel. This test includes levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, glucose, and measurements of kidney function. It is most often used to check for dehydration in illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea and to monitor patients with heart failure or kidney disease.

LFTs: Liver Function Tests. Higher-than-normal levels in a liver function test may indicate ongoing liver damage from an infection or medicine. Doctors usually check LFTs when starting or tweaking the dose of medications that lower cholesterol. The liver can quickly become damaged as a side effect of some medications and diseases like the Hepatitis family A-F.

A fatty liver is diagnosed after a blood test showing elevated liver enzymes. For example, your doctor may order the alanine aminotransferase test (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase test (AST) to check your liver enzymes.

Negative: When you say something is negative, it usually means either “No” or “it is bad”. Doctors like to be different and use this word to mean “normal.” Conversely, to add to the confusion, they call abnormal test resultspositive,” which means the result contains bad news.

For example, “Your chest X-ray was positive for pneumonia” (Bad news).

“But returned a negative for Tuberculosis.” (Great news).

Prediabetes: In most people, a fasting blood sugar level should be less than 100. A person whose fasting blood sugar level is persistently above 126 has diabetes; between 100 and 126 means a person has “prediabetes,” meaning the person has a significantly higher chance of becoming a future diabetic. Unlike type 1 diabetes, prediabetes is usually type 2 and can be treated with diet and exercise rather than medicine. Quick action and a lifestyle change can prevent and reverse the prediabetes diagnosis.

LDL: low-density lipoprotein, better known as “bad cholesterol.” The less you have in your blood, the lower your risk for heart attack or stroke. A normal level is 130 or less; people with a family history of or currently have known heart disease or diabetes should have levels well below 100.

BMI: Everyone has heard this term bandied about, even if in passing. Body Mass Index is the most widely used, but not entirely faultless, measure of weight relative to height. A normal BMI for an adult is between 20 and 25. Adults with BMIs between 25 and 30 are overweight, while those with BMIs over 30 are obese. Doctors may recommend that “morbidly obese” adults (a BMI over 35 or 40) consider weight-loss surgery, as lifestyle changes alone are unlikely to bring them down to a normal weight.

The BMI does have limitations and only works on the “average collective”. It does not allow for extremes such as dwarfism or gigantism. It doesn’t allow for the heavy-set builds of Pacific Islanders or those who undertake muscle mass gains like bodybuilders. In such cases, it is better to measure the total body fat ratio percentage with a pinch test.

Metabolic syndrome: is defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as a cluster of related risk factors that increase a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. These include high blood pressure, a large waistline, prediabetes, and abnormal cholesterol measurements.

Decoding Doctor Talk: Reference Material

For help decoding doctor talk any medical terms you may encounter and not understand, there are several online glossaries at and you can check out. While these resources can be useful, if you don’t understand what your doctor is telling you, please ask them to translate and decode their doctor talk into the very basic level of the language you speak.

Don’t be afraid to demand they explain it like you are a child in very simple terms! It could be the difference between you understanding what you have and need to do and not understanding what you have or need to do to treat the condition, and then the situation gets worse.

Decoding Doctor Talk: Secret Language

Like any profession, medicine has its own language, and doctors often don’t realise when they are using medical jargon, the average person doesn’t understand because it is their native language.

Doctors might not want you to think they are talking down to you by being so simplistic in their explanation, or they may not see that they are failing to get the information they want the patient to have through to them in a way they understand.

Most importantly, remember that the only “dumb” question in existence is the one you have, but don’t ask because you are embarrassed or feel ashamed to ask. In some cases, ignorance can be deadly.

Decoding Hospital Terminology You Might Hear

Code Blue:  The hospital’s way of announcing that a person has stopped breathing and requires immediate CPR. The calling of the words Code Blue will coincide with the sound of a buzzer sounding three times in the room the code blue is happening. A panel will light up in the nurse’s station and alert the staff to which room the emergency is taking place.

Crash Cart: The crash cart is a trolley on wheels that contains all the drugs and equipment needed to save a life. Nursing stations always have a crash cart on standby for use in an emergency, and most of them have an AED device.

AED / Defibrillator: This is the automated machine used to deliver an electric shock to the heart in the hopes it will restart a normal rhythm in a heart that has stopped beating. It consists of two paddles placed directly on naked skin above and below the heart that deliver a charged electric voltage. In TV shows, you see it used and hear the person using it say the word “Clear” before they check to see that no one is touching the body and deliver the first shock.

Old defib machines were not automated, but the new range are called AEDs. They are the same device, but the new AEDs are voice automated. Anyone can use an AED when someone’s heart has stopped beating so long as they can follow the instructions the robot voice issues.

Most units are English speaking, but other languages are also represented. So knowing how to use an AED by taking a CPR course means you can save a life in any country regardless of language barriers.

Section 8:  If you have ever heard the words “section 8″ spoken, then you have heard medical personnel talking about someone needing clinical assessment to assess their level of sanity. At least one police officer will accompany a section 8 order, and the person may be cuffed or restrained to the bed to prevent them from escaping or harming the nursing staff or themselves.

People on drugs who present to an emergency room are often called to be Section 8 assessed, but that does not mean they are crazy, merely that they have a drug-induced psychosis that needs identification and the correct treatment. They may require isolation to ensure the safety of law enforcement, medical staff, and other people in the surrounding vicinity.

Decoding doctor talk can be difficult but it does not have to be. Consider taking a First Aid course today. You could save the life of someone you love or become a hero to someone who needs your knowledge and help in a medical emergency. Visit our FACE Blog page and read up on a wide range of topics for inspiration or motivation. Take the FACE Quiz and see where your current First Aid skills reside or need improvement.

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