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Q&A: What Do All Of Those NICU Acronyms Mean?

I’ve been hearing a lot of acronyms while hanging around in the NICU. What do they all mean?

We definitely use a ton of acronyms in the medical world, but the idea is to make it simple – not to confuse you! Your doctor should carefully explain any acronym that applies to you or your babies.  As you already know, there are many conditions to look out for when carrying multiples (like TTTS — Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome). Well, the same can be said for conditions that occur in newborns. While in the NICU, most of the acronyms you may hear will have to do with various conditions that some of the babies have, but to help me best answer this question, I checked with my colleague Dr. Welty, the Chief of Neonatology at Texas Children’s Hospital and a great resource on the subject. He provided me with just some of the most common acronyms that are used in the NICU.

CPAP (Continous Positive Air Pressure) – A machine that is used to help babies who have poor respiration. In addition to ensuring that an adequate oxygen supply reaches the lungs and body at all times, a CPAP supplements the baby's natural breathing rhythms.

ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) - Used for babies whose lungs are failing despite other treatments, ECMO takes over the work of the lungs so they can rest and heal.

NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis) – This is the most common intestinal condition in newborns.  The more premature the baby, the greater the risk for NEC.

PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus) – This occurs when the blood vessel in the heart that connects the aorta to the pulmonary artery remains open after birth.  When this occurs, blood can flood the vessels in the lungs, causing respiratory problems.

PVL (Periventricular Leukomalacia) – Though there are often no signs of PVL, this type of brain injury is something that doctors look out for in preemies.

RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome) – The most common condition behind babies who are having trouble breathing, this condition is common and very treatable. 

ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity) – This abnormal growth of the blood vessels in an infant’s eye is something to watch out for in very premature babies (especially those weighing less than 3 pounds).

By Karen Moise, RN