Medical mnemonics

Fair warning: very few of these mnemonics will be helpful at first.  Like all mnemonics, they’re really only helpful once you’ve reviewed enough of the basic information to start wondering how the hell you’re going to remember the details, like the difference between amoxicillin and ampicillin, or which thalessemia is most common where.

So with that in mind, these are the memory tricks that have stuck with me so far.
(Last update:  June 1st, 2011)

Looking for Anatomy Mnemonics?  Due to taking up a crazy amount of space (and also being done with it – hell yes!)  I’ve moved them to their own page.

Molecular Biology & Biochem
Citrate Is Kreb’s Starting Substrate For Making Oxaloacetate.
(Citrate, Isocitrate, Ketoglutarate, Succinyl-CoA, Succinate, Fumarate, Malate, Oxaloacetate)

Notch is turned on in arteries and off in veins, because “n” (for “notch”) is the opposite of “v” (it’s upside down) but looks similar to an “a”.

Collagen: Type One is in the Bone, Type Four is the floor (basement membrane)

CD4+ T-cells recognize HLS/MHC II, while CD8+ T-cells recognize HLS/MHC I, because it takes 2 strokes of the pen to write “4” but only 1 stroke of the pen to write “8”.

Alternative way to remember that = The Rule of 8. The CD# multiplied by the MHC # must equal 8 (i.e. cd8 x mhc1 = 8, cd4 x mhc2 = 8 )

CD4+ T-cells are helper T cells because “cells ask 4 help”.  (meaning CD8+ are cytotoxic t-cells).

LTB4 is very important for neutrophils.  Anything regarding neutrophils and leukotrienes = LTB4.  Be Neutral.

(See First Aid for fancier mnemonics about interleukins.)

I can only put a few of the mnemonics I relied on here, mostly because the rest can be easily acquired using the simple 3 step process below:
1.  Buy Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple and First Aid.
2.  Actually read the relevant sections in both.  (If you can only get one, choose CMMRS.  First Aid won’t be helpful as pre-reading, but it’s great for review.)
3.  Rock out.

Not even kidding, just buy those books.  But here’s a few other mnemonics:

How to remember Neisseria is a gram negative cocci:  Neisseria = Negative version of staph, strep, & enterococci.  (Still a cocci, still somewhat aerobic – but gram negative.)

Enterobactiaeae – Lactose-Fermenters vs. Non-Lactose Fermenters: The S.S. (nazis) were anti-beer and would not allow fermentation.  The European Kingdoms (EK) in general, however, loved beer and fermented it all the time. (S.S. = salmonella and shigella, E.K. = E. coli and Klebsiella)

Difference between E. coli’s Oxygen Labile toxin and Oxygen Stable toxin:  Labile like the air (increases cAMP), stable like the ground (increases cGMP)

Difference between Amoxicillin and Ampicillin:  Amoxicillin has more moxy – the bravery to withstand the acidity of the stomach (you can use it orally).

Difference between Quinupristin-dalfopristin and Linezolid:  Lids don’t move (bacteriostatic), while pristine surfaces wouldn’t have any living bacteria on them (bacteriocidal).  Similarly, lids cover food or other things (can be used orally or parenterally), while, what with all those cleaning chemicals on them, you wouldn’t go around trying to eat or lick pristine surfaces (IV only).

Anaerobes Can’t Breathe Air:  Clostridium, bacterioides, actinomyces are the obligate anaerobes.

Fungi dimorphs:  Cold = mold, heat = yeast.  (Mold spores in external environment, transforming to yeasts inside a human where it’s slightly warmer.)

Prader-Willi vs. Angelman’s Syndrome: You have these syndromes because of what’s missing.  So the names describe what’s missing – Prader-Willi lacks the paternal copy, Angelman’s lacks the maternal copy.

Thalassemias:  a-thalassemia is most common in asians, b-thalassemia is most common in bible regions (the mediterranean).

Huntington’s Disease (if you watch Battlestar Galactica): The CAG is hunting 4 cylons.
Hunting = Huntington’s Disease, CAG = a CAG trinucleotide repeat, 4 = chromosome 4. (Thanks, Boyfriend!)

Signaling Centers: ZPA is for Posterior/Anterior Axis (because it has P and A right in its name), AER is for proximal/distal axis (“away-er” as in,, “that part is more.. ‘away-er'”), and Dorsal Ectoderm is for Dorsal/Ventral axis because dorsal is in its name.

BS’IN (as in, ‘just sitting around, BS’ing’):  BMP signals Skin, bmp Inhibition signifies Neural tissue.

EKG Bipolar Leads:  The number of the lead = the number of words beginning with “L”s in the description.  (Lead 1 = left arm to right arm, Lead 2 = left leg to right arm, Lead 3 = left leg to left arm).  The positive electrode will be on the first body part listed for each lead (i.e. the one with more Ls).

Antiarrhythmic Drugs:  Some Block Potassium Channels (Class I = sodium channel blockers, II = Beta-blockers, III = Potasium channel blockers, IV = Calcium channel blockers)

Rate Control for Afib (a chant) = “2, 4, Dig, 8 – how do we control the rate?” These are helpfully in order of general severity (i.e. class II drugs for acute afib, class IV for more long-term use, digitalis as something that can be considered 2nd line on occasion) (I think an M4 here came up with that one.  It wasn’t me.)

Drugs to give post-MI:  SAAB (Statin, Aspirin (+clopidogrel), ACEI/ARB, Beta-blocker).

Drugs for chronic heart failure:  Heart Failure is BADD (Beta-blockers, aspirin/clopidogrel, ACEi/ARB, Diuretics (loop), Digitalis) <– the first two have proven mortality benefits, the 2nd two are symptomatic only (though digitalis is shown to reduce hospitalizations)

Treatment of acute exacerbation of heart failure:  LMNOP (Loop diuretics, Morphine, Nitrates, Oxygen, Positioning/Pressors.)  (And of course, get them off the b-blocker.)

Initial treatment for chest pain:  MONA (Morphine, Oxygen, Nitrates, Aspirin)

Difference between serum and plasma:  Serum includes clotting factors.  Just remember that “serum” has more letters than “plasma”, and therefore has more stuff in it.

a-1 antitrypsin deficiency genotypes: M = me, S= somewhat reduced, Z=zero/zebra (M is the most common allele, Z is the one where if you’re homozygous you have an 80-100% chance of developing panacinar emphysema, regardless of whether you smoke or not)

Respiratory Failure Types: Some Have A Hypoperfusion (Type 1= Shunting, Type 2=Hypoventilation, Type 3=Atelectasis, Type 4= Hypoperfusion)

Neoplasias:  Squamous & Small cell are central and found in smokers.  (Centriacinar emphysema is also central and found in smokers [compared to panacinar]).

In oppositional defiant disorder, it’s ‘I say yes, you say no; I say no, you say yes.’
However, in conduct disorder, it’s ‘I say yes, you say no; I say no, you say fuck you.’


Principal cells:  What’s the job of principals?  To expel students.  Principle starts with “p”, and therefore, Principle cells expel Potassium.

Intercalated cells and [HCO3-]:  BEAR (Beta cells excrete HCO3-, Alpha cells reabsorb it).

Also, once you know the BEAR mnemonic, just remember that Aldosterone stimulates Alpha-intercalated cells (a way to remember that Aldo increases HCO3- reabsorption).

(Note:  Angiotensin II, which begins with A too, also increases HCO3- reabsorption.  But that’s in the proximal tubule [Na+/H+ exchanger].)

Genetic renal diseases:  The order of the nephron defects in Barter, Gitelman, and Liddle syndromes are alphabetical.  (i.e. Barter is a thick ascending limb transporter problem, Gitelman is distal tubule, Liddle syndrome is a defect in the collecting duct)

Genetic renal disease manifestations:  To Git a good deal, you Barter prices down (Gitelman and Barter Syndromes = autosomal recessive, hypotension, loss of function.  [get it?  Down?  All these things are decreased?]).

Compare to Liddle Syndrome, where everything’s increased.  (Autosomal dominant, hypertension, gain of function mutation.)

Adrenal Cortex Layers: GFR (Zona glomerulosa, zona fasciculata, zona reticularis)

Hormones produced by the AC layers: “Salt, sugar, and sex: the deeper you go, the sweeter it gets” (Glomerulosa –> aldosterone, fasciculata –> glucocorticoids, reticularis –> sex hormones)

Pituitary: Vowels go together, consonants go together. (Posterior is neural [neurohypophysis], anterior is endocrine [adenohypophysis].)

Male Gonadotropins:
FSH –> Sertoli cells –> Stops female parts (Anti-Mullerian hormone).  Also, spermatogenesis takes place in the seminiferous tubules between the Sertoli cells
LH –> Leydig cells –> testosterone (Leydies [Ladies] Dig Testosterone)

PTH = Phosphate Trashing Hormone.  (Courtesy of First Aid).

25 thoughts on “Medical mnemonics

  1. O, O, O, to touch and feel various girls vaginas and hymens

    Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Vestibulocochlear, glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory, hypoglossal.

    The 12 cranial nerves, with a bit of a dirty secret.

    • Nice! You know, I think that’s the only one that’s ever made coherent sense as a sentence. Some teachers preach the “on old olympus towering top, a fin and german viewed some hops”, but that never seems to stick with anybody. It’s really just not dirty enough.

    • I’ve always heard (and of course used) the same, but with either “virgin girls” or “very good” instead of “various girls.” All are sufficiently dirty enough to remember, though. 🙂

      Another favorite: “Big Sluts Get Lucky Constantly” — layers of the epidermis: basale, spinosum, granulosum, lucidum, corneum.

      • another version — layers of epidermis from bottom to top:
        “Before Sex Grab Latex Condom”
        basale, spinosum, granulosum, lucidum, corneum.

    • OOOTTAFVGVAH, the final AH can also just be a sleazy sigh…
      and to remember which ones are Motor, Sensory or Both try lining CN I-XII with:
      Some Say Money Matters, But My Brother Says Big Boobs Matter More.

  2. to remember which of the cranial nerves are sensory, motor or both:
    Some Say Money Matters But My Brother Says Big Butts Matter More

    • I always heard it Some Say Marry Money But My Brother Says Big Boobs Matter More

      Slowly Lower Tilly’s Pants to the Curly Hairs for the carpals.

      It’s always the dirty ones you remember. And it makes it that much more fun to teach them to poor innocent young students.

  3. Hey Action Potential! Feel free to not actually post this as a comment, I actually just wanted to say that I think the mnemonics and resources pages are a great idea and I think I might copy the idea on my own blog, if that’s ok. I’m a second year at…Lake Med, let’s call it. Unfortunately I’ve missed a year of great mnemonics etc. to post, but some have stuck and more are sure to come. Check out my site if you’re ever bored; I’ve just started blogging about something other than my travels, so more random, ironic, bizarre and sometimes just ridiculous stories should be coming soon. (Shamelessly trying to draw in new readers. forgive me.) 🙂 ~go.treat.heal

  4. Action P. I think you made a boo-boo

    correction> you need to switch the words serum and plasma in your mnemonic:

    “Difference between serum and plasma: Serum includes clotting factors. Just remember that “serum” has more letters than “plasma”, and therefore has more stuff in it.”

    serum has 5 letters and plasma has 6 and anyway,

    I know you know blood serum is blood plasma without fibrinogen or the other clotting factors because the blood it came from has already clotted before being centrifuged.

    i love your site.

  5. Alternative Option for the Kreb’s pneumonic – “Can I Keep Selling Sex For Money, Officer?” (Citrate, Isocitrate, alpha-Ketogluterate, Succinyl-CoA, Succinate, Fumarate, Malate & Oxalacetate)

    Funny & actually kind of catchy, but doesn’t tell you quite as much as yours, I feel..

    But if I had a dollar for each individual time I’ve re-learned Kreb’s.. I’m pretty sure I would have approximately $14. Plus interest.

  6. Got anything for Spinal Cord Injuries? I’ve heard something like C5, I’m alive (breathing is intact)… C8 I can date (the fingers can flex) Help!

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  8. Did you get the antibiotic tricks (such as the ampicillin vs. amoxicillin) out of the book “clinical microbiology made ridiculously simple”? I am a pharmacy student and if there are more of these about the antibiotics then I will definitely purchase this book!

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  10. Nike started the Free series with the Free 5.0 in 2005 and in 2006 released a new version of the shoe, the Nike Free 5.0 V2, that addressed some of the durability issues in the earlier model. Among other changes, the heel and sidewalls of the shoe were redesigned to prevent tearing.Since then, the Nike Free 5.0 V3 (2007), Nike Free 5.0 V4 (2009), and Nike Free 5.0 V5 (2013) models have been released along with various other models from the Nike Free 3.0 V1, V2, V3, V4, and V5 to the Nike Free 7.0 V1 and V2.
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