Medical Terminology Differences Between the US and UK For Dietitians

As I prepared to work in the UK, I searched for resources that could help me with the switch. There wasn’t a lot of information out there for international dietitians, so this is one part of a series of informational guides that I’ve posted since moving.

While most medical terminology terms and spellings are so similar that people will still know what you mean, there are some that can be quite different, and it’s nice to know what to expect.

Spelling Changes

Many medical words in the UK have an ae or oe instead of an e. Anything with “eme” becomes “aeme.” Examples of this include:

US SpellingUK Spelling
etiologyaetiology – this is why in the US it is a PES statement and in the UK it is a PASS statement
bowel ischemiabowel ischaemia
glycemic indexglycaemic index
esophagusoesophagus – this means GERD becomes GORD, and EGD becomes OGD
sleep apneasleep apnoea
motor neuron diseasemotor neurone disease

Acronyms and Terminology Differences

There are also some acronyms I find to be more common in the UK than in the US. The only one I can’t bring myself to use is “bowels opened.” Although I know that it’s meant to be a euphemism, asking someone if they “have opened their bowels” sounds too graphic for me. What is even more confusing is that in the UK, a BM is not a bowel movement, but a blood glucose measurement!

US TerminologyUK Terminology
TID, BID, QIDTDS, BD, QDS – I found these to be more common, however this NHS website says that both versions are used
NPO (nil per os)NBM (nil by mouth)
bowel movement (BM)bowels opened (BO)
gastrostomy (G-tube)radiologically inserted gastrostomy (RIG)
rectal bleedPR bleed
hiatal herniahiatus hernia
NG tubeNG tube/Ryle’s tube – Ryle’s tube is often used to mean a large bore NG tube which is used for suctioning rather than feeding. The term NG tube is still used to denote feeding tubes.
pressure injury/pressure ulcer/pressure sorepressure ulcer/pressure sore
operating roomoperating theatre
emergency department/emergency room (ED/ER)accident and emergency (A&E)
peripheral IVcannula
flu shotflu jab
doctor’s officedoctor’s surgery
vomit sick – while vomit is still used, sick is also often used as a noun instead of the word vomit (i.e. “don’t step there, there’s sick on the floor!”) and if someone says they feel like they’re “going to be sick,” they are talking about vomiting
food service departmentcatering department
food safetyfood hygiene
walkerZimmer frame
intellectual disabilitylearning disability

Members of the Multidisciplinary Team

US TerminologyUK Terminology
Speech Language Pathology (SLP)Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) or Speech Language Therapist (SLT)
primary care provider/physician (PCP)general practitioner (GP)
certified nursing assistant (CNA), state-tested nursing assistant (STNA)healthcare assistant (HCA)
charge nurseward sister/charge nurse
resident/internjunior doctor/foundation year (FY) doctor
attending physicianconsultant
respiratory therapistrespiratory therapy is not a recognized specific profession in the UK, but physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and physicians may all specialize in respiratory care
physical therapistphysiotherapist

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that, in both countries, we are all in agreement to spell dietitian with a “t” (even if non-dietitians aren’t!).

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