NPO: What Does it Mean?

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Are you trying to figure out what NPO means in nursing or medical terms? Here’s the quick answer.

NPO or npo is Latin for “nil per os,” which translates to “nothing through the mouth” in English. It’s an abbreviation used by providers to designate when they don’t want a patient to eat or drink anything by mouth.

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Other Facts About NPO

1. NPO is an acceptable abbreviation as defined by The Joint Commission.

The Joint Commission, which is an organization that acredits hospitals and other medical facilities has a list of abbreviations that they don’t want health care providers to use for various safety reasons.

2. It’s typically done for safety reasons.

An NPO order is typically given to patients who are about to have a procedure requiring sedation or contrast.

The reason for this is because when a patient is given sedation or contrast there’s a chance the patient may aspirate.

Aspiration is when you breathe in or take in contents from your stomach into your lungs.This can lead to aspiration pneumonia and a lot of other health related issues.

3. The NPO time will vary based on the procedure.

I’ve seen this vary based on procedure. Some procedures may require anywhere from a couple of hours to 6-12 hours npo.

Example of Provider Orders for NPO

One of the most common orders nurses will see for NPO could look something like:

  • Make Jane Doe NPO at midnight.
  • Make John Smith NPO 12 hours before procedure time.

To Summarize

  • NPO means “nil per os” in Latin.
  • NPO is a shorthand abbreviation for nothing by mouth.
  • It’s not on The Joint Commissions “Do Not Use” List for abbreviations.
  • Patients are typically made NPO as a safety precaution to prevent complications that could lead to health issues like aspiration pneumonia.

Source: Healthline, The Joint Commission (Official “Do Not Use” List)

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