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Paramedic terminology: 10 phrases everyone should know

Understand some terms related to paramedic care should a loved one need an ambulance

Paramedic terminology can be complex and confusing. That’s because paramedics are highly trained professionals who perform complex life-saving procedures on patients in extreme situations. Nobody wants to become a paramedic’s patient, but if you or a loved one does need paramedic help, there is some paramedic terminology you might want to know.

Here are the 10 paramedic terminology phrases everyone should understand:

1. A.L.S. Advanced Life Support

This is paramedic terminology for the advanced level of emergency care they administer using invasive life saving procedures, including intravenous (IV) infusions, tracheal intubation, medication administration and electrocardiogram interpretation.

2. Anaphylactic Shock

This is a collapse of the circulatory system function and decrease in blood pressure from an allegic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that can result in death if not treated immediately. It can be caused by an allergic reaction to medications, bee stings, other insect bites and certain foods. Read how a flight paramedic survived an in-flight case of anaphlaxis.

3. Atrial Tachycardia

Uncontrolled rapid heartbeat in the atria of the heart. This condition sounds scary, but it’s not life threatening. It can however cause blood clots which can cause a stroke, which is life threatening.

The education of a paramedic

4. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Most people know this term, but for the uninitiated, CPR refers to a life-saving procedure used when the heart has stopped beating and the patient has stopped breathing. It employs hand pressure on the chest to circulate blood and breathing into the patient’s mouth to introduce air into the lungs. Anyone can learn how to perform hands-only CPR — watch a demo of hands-only CPR — or receive just-in-time CPR instruction from a 911 dispatcher.

5. Cardiac Arrest

The sudden temporary or permanent cessation of the heart function. Fatal if not treated. Apply an Automatic External Defibrillator as soon as it is available.

6. Collapsed Lung

This can occur as the result of a chest injury such as impact to the chest in a car accident. It can also be caused by lung disease.

7. Supra-ventricular Tachycardia

This condition is life-threatening. It denotes a synchronized rapid contraction of the heart ventricles, decreasing cardiac function and will cause death if it isn’t treated and corrected.

8. Triage

This paramedic term involves the prioritizing of medical response according to the severity of the patient’s condition or injury.

MCI Triage and Treatment Supplies
  • 8 individual IFAKs each contain the essential tools to address severe bleeding
  • Instruction card for quick and easy component identification
  • QuikLitters are also included

9. Ventricular Fibrillation

Uncontrolled spasm of the heart muscle with no cardiac output. Results in death if not corrected immediately. An electric defibrillator is used to correct this condition through electric shock, allowing the heart to return to a normal rhythm, if successful.

10. Ventricular Tachycardia

Uncontrolled rapid heartbeat is produced in the ventricular section of the heart. This reduces cardiac function due to a decrease in ventricle filling. Potentially life-threatening if it progresses to ventricular fibrillation.

By knowing the paramedic terminology commonly used in emergency situations, you can better understand the procedures they use in treating patients.


This article, originally published on June 06, 2011, has been updated.

EMS 101 articles are intended to educate a non-emergency medical services audience about the emergency medical services profession. These articles are written by EMS1 staff members and EMS1 contributors, and cover a wide range of topics from EMS protocols all paramedics & EMTs should follow to an overview of the necessary requirements for becoming a paramedic.