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What does DCAP-BTLS stand for?

Memorization of acronyms does not necessarily translate to understanding; here’s a breakdown of what DCAP-BTLS means

Anytime you’re studying for a test, it’s automatically easier to memorize information if you can use or create an acronym.

In EMS, there’s an endless amount of terminology and phrases. When you’re on scene, it’s not helpful if you just say, “Don’t forget DCAP-BTLS.”

What does DCAP-BTLS stand for?

  • Deformities
  • Contusions
  • Abrasions
  • Punctures/penetrations
  • Burns
  • Tenderness
  • Lacerations
  • Swelling

How is DCAP-BTLS used during the physical exam?

Memorization may get you a passing grade on a test, but you must also understand and implement the learned knowledge in your day-to-day calls as an EMS provider. Here is what each letter means in the context of performing a head-to-toe or focused history physical exam during the patient assessment.

  • Deformities: Is there an abnormality in the shape of a body part or organ compared to the normal shape?
  • Contusions: Do you notice bruising? In extreme cases, this can cause blood to seep, hemorrhage or extravasate into surrounding tissues.
  • Abrasions: How severe is the abrasion? Your treatment will vary depending on the severity, but be sure to always clean and remove any debris.
  • Punctures/penetrations: Penetrating trauma suggests an object didn’t pass through, while perforating trauma is associated with an entrance and exit wound.
  • Burns: Treatment depends on the severity of the burn.
  • Tenderness: This shouldn’t be confused with pain. Tenderness is triggered by discomfort when an affected area is touched.
  • Lacerations: Treatment depends on the type, cause and depth of the wound. Minor wounds heal on their own, while puncture wounds are more prone to infection.
  • Swelling: This is an abnormal enlargement of a body part or area. Swelling may occur in response to infection, injury or disease.

OK, now say it with me. DCAP-BTLS: deformities, contusions, abrasions, punctures/penetrations, burns, tenderness, lacerations and swelling.

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Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of and, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.