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Glossary of trauma terms


  • Anoxia — A lack of oxygen which can cause damage to the brain. This can result when blood flow is reduced.
  • Antibiotic — Medicine used to treat infections in the blood, urine, lungs and other areas of the body.
  • Anticoagulation — Preventing or delaying the clotting of the blood.
  • Aphasia — An abnormal neurologic condition in which language function is defective or absent relating to an injury to the cerebral cortex of the brain. The deficiency may be receptive, in which language is not understood. It may be expressive, in which words cannot be formed or expressed. It is sometimes transient, as when the swelling in the brain subsides. Intensive speech therapy by the patient and the patient’s family is often successful in restoring language function.
  • Arterial blood gas (ABGs or Gases) — Blood test that determines how well a patient is breathing and how well the lungs are working by measuring the oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH of the blood.
  • Arterial line (art line) — A very small tube (catheter) put into an artery so that blood pressure can be measured at all times. Blood can be removed from this catheter for lab testing.
  • Arteriogram (angiogram) — An X-ray of an artery injected with radiopaque contrast (dye) through a catheter.


  • Basilar skull fracture — Fracture or break at the base of the skull.
  • Brain death — Death caused by complete and irreversible loss of function of the entire brain, including the brain stem. The heart may continue as long as the breathing machine (ventilator) is in place, but without the breathing machine, the brain no longer signals the body to breathe and the heart soon stops from lack of oxygen.


  • Catheter — A hollow, flexible tube that can be inserted into a vessel or cavity of the body to withdraw or instill fluids.
  • Cervical collar (C-collar) — Firm brace worn to support the neck. The main reason your doctor wants you to wear this collar is to limit the movement of the bones in your neck, either to prevent injury or to allow an injury to heal.
  • CAT or CT Scan (Computerized Axial Tomography) — A radiology technique in which a scanner is used to obtain a series of detailed visualizations of tissues, body organs and bones. The procedure is painless, non-invasive and requires no special preparation.
  • Cast — A stiff, solid dressing formed with plaster of Paris or fiberglass around a limb or other body part to immobilize it during healing.
  • Chest tube —  A catheter inserted through the chest wall into the chest cavity for removing air or fluid. It is used following chest surgery or lung collapse.
  • Colostomy — A surgical creation of an opening (stoma) on the abdominal wall by cutting the colon and bringing it out to the surface.
  • Coma — A state of profound unconsciousness in which a person cannot open eyes, obey commands or speak words that can be understood.
  • Concussion — A mild injury to the brain. These injuries are often caused by a blow to the head or a sudden violent motion that causes the brain to bump up against the skull. Also called a traumatic brain injury or closed head injury.
  • Contusion — A bruise.
  • Cultures — Lab tests to check blood or other body fluids for bacteria in order to identify a pathogen and to determine which antibiotics are effective in combating the infection.


  • Drain — A small catheter to remove extra blood/fluid from inside the body.


  • Edema — Swelling resulting from an excessive accumulation of fluid in the tissue of the body.
  • EEG (Electroencephalogram) — An evaluation of electrical activity of the brain.
  • EKG (Electrocardiogram) — Recordings of the electrical activity of the heart used to diagnose specific cardiac abnormalities.
  • Endotracheal tube (ET Tube) — A plastic tube is passed through the mouth or nose into the trachea (windpipe). The tube can be used to deliver extra oxygen to the lungs, to help make breathing easier and to help with removing fluid from the lungs. The patient cannot talk while this tube is in place.
  • Extubate — Removal of the endotracheal tube (ET tube) from the trachea.


  • Feeding tube — Small plastic catheter that goes into the nose to the stomach or intestine to give liquid food when the patient is unable to eat or drink.
  • Foley catheter — Soft rubber catheter that has been placed in the bladder for continuous drainage of urine from the bladder.


  • Hypertension — High blood pressure.
  • Hypotension — Low blood pressure.


  • Intercranial pressure line (ICP )— Small catheter put into special areas of the brain that measures pressure inside the skull.
  • Intravenous (IV) puncture — A very small tube (catheter) put into a vein so that fluids and medicines can be given into the bloodstream.
  • Intubate — Passage of a tube through the mouth or nose into the trachea to ensure adequate delivery of oxygen.


  • Lumbar puncture (LP) — Spinal tap. Placing a hollow needle into a space in the lumbar portion (lower portion) of the spinal canal.


  • Nasogastic tube (NG) — A tube that goes through the nose or mouth down into the stomach so that stomach fluids and air can be removed. Liquid medicines and liquid food formulas can be given through the tube.
  • Neurological — Having to do with the brain, spinal cord and nerves.
  • NPO — Nothing by mouth.


  • Paralysis — Unable to move a group of muscles.
  • Pneumo boots — Large plastic stockings that inflate and deflate in a cycle. These boots help to prevent blood clots from forming in the deep veins of the legs.
  • Pneumonia — Lung infection often caused by bacteria (germs) inside the lungs. Characteristics of pneumonia are severe chills, a high fever, headache, cough with phlegm and chest pain.
  • Post-Concussive Syndrome — Group of symptoms that occur after a blow to the head. Symptoms can be vague and persist for days or months. These may include headache, dizziness, change in emotion, memory, thinking and personality.
  • Pulmonary — Having to do with the lungs and breathing.


  • Reflex — The way the body reacts to light, noise or touch which the person cannot control.
  • Rehabilitation (rehab) — Process of restoring a person to the best possible level of functioning after a disabling event.
  • Respirator/ventilator — A machine that helps the patient breath (Ventilator, Breathing Machine).


  • Seizure — Jerky movements that a person cannot control.
  • Septic/sepsis — Infection due to germs in patient’s blood.
  • Spasm/spasticity — State of continuous muscle contraction that the person cannot control.
  • Splint — Metal or plaster brace to position a body part.


  • TEDS — Elastic stockings applied to the legs to help prevent clots from forming in the deep veins of the legs.
  • Tracheotomy tube (Trach) — A tube that goes through a hole made in the front of the neck into the windpipe (trachea). This tube is used for the same reason as the Endotracheal tube (ET tube). The patient cannot talk with this tube in place.
  • Traction — Heavy weights that help pull the ends of broken bones together in a straight normal position. Traction is used until the broken bone is repaired with a cast or an operation.


  • Ventilator — A machine that helps the patient breathe (Breathing Machine, Respirator).
  • Vital signs — Measurement of blood pressure, heart rate (pulse), breathing and temperature.