How to read your prescription

When writing out a prescription many doctors still use abbreviations derived from a rough and ready version of Latin. The abbreviations are used to give instructions to the pharmacist who will turn the prescription into a bottle of pills. Here are some of the commonest abbreviations - and their meanings:

ac - before meals
alt die - alternate days
bd (or bid) - twice a day
c - with
dol urg - when the pain is severe
gutt - drops
hs - at bedtime
m - mix
om - every morning
on - every evening
prn - when needed
qd (or qid) four times a day
r - take
sig - label
sos - if necessary
stat - immediately
td (or tid or tds) - three times a day
ung - ointment


Every week thousands of patients are used - often unwittingly - in medical experiments. Doctors in general practice and in hospitals - make thousands of pounds testing new drugs for pharmaceutical companies. But patients are often put at risk unnecessarily. Be suspicious if your doctor makes a great fuss of you, is unusually polite or wants you to return to the clinic at very regular intervals.

If, instead of handing you a prescription, your doctor gives you a bottle of pills and doesn't charge you for them then the pills may be new and you may be taking part in a drug trial.

Watch out if your doctor asks you a lot of questions that don't seem entirely relevant. If your doctor is doing a clinical trial for a drug company he will almost certainly ask you lots of questions about side effects - questions that he would not normally ask.

Be wary if your doctor wants you to undergo blood or other tests but doesn't explain why the tests are necessary. Drug companies paying for new drugs to be tested may want blood tests performed.

If your doctor admits that he wants to try out a new drug on you make sure that there is no existing alternative. New drugs should only be tried out on patients when there are no effective and safe alternatives. Why should you risk your health (and your life) to benefit your doctor's bank balance and the drug company's profits?

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2003