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46 nursing mnemonics to help you prepare for the NCLEX

The NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination, is the licensing examination for nurses in the United States, Canada and Australia. This test is designed to measure the general knowledge and nursing skills that are essential for entry-level nurses. The NCLEX is largely a multiple-choice test, meaning it will test your recall of specific information and situations from nursing school.

This is where nursing mnemonics can come in handy. Mnemonics are word devices designed to improve memory and recall. These devices can be an incredibly useful study tool, particularly for nursing students, who need to memorize several multi-step procedures and treatments to pass exams like the NCLEX and receive their license after they have graduated nursing school.

All levels of nurses, from master’s students becoming nurse educators to RNs attaining a BSN degree, can benefit from having these nursing mnemonics in their back pocket. Here are some of the most common nursing mnemonics, sorted alphabetically, to help you study.

The 5 A’s of Alzheimer’s diagnosis

The five A’s of Alzheimer’s diagnosis can help nurses identify Alzheimer’s in patients. The five A’s are: 

  • Amnesia
  • Anomia
  • Apraxia
  • Agnosia
  • Aphasia

It should be noted that these symptoms typically occur together to signal Alzheimer’s disease.

The 5 L’s of hypokalemia

Nurses can use the letter L to remember the symptoms of hypokalemia, which is a potassium deficiency. These symptoms are: 

  • Lethargy
  • Leg cramps
  • Limp muscles
  • Low or shallow breathing
  • Lethal cardiac dysrhythmia
  • Lots of urine

The 5 P’s of compartment syndrome

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses identify compartment syndrome. This can occur when excess pressure builds up in the muscles and cuts off blood flow, which can lead to permanent damage. The five P’s to check for compartment syndrome are:

Compartment syndrome can be acute, caused by an injury or outside trauma, or chronic.

The 6 P’s of dyspnea

This mnemonic is designed to help you memorize the six major causes of dyspnea, commonly known as shortness of breath. They include:

  • Pulmonary bronchial constriction
  • Possible foreign body
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pump failure
  • Pneumonia

It should be noted that this mnemonic was created before the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore doesn’t include the upper respiratory virus.

The 3 S’s of adrenal gland hormones

The adrenal glands help regulate essential functions in the body by producing the following hormones, including:

  • Sugar (glucocorticoids)
  • Salt (mineralocorticoids)
  • Sex (androgens)

Checking these hormones can help identify deficiencies that can cause conditions like Addison’s disease.

The 6 S’s of steroids

This mnemonic device is intended to help nurses remember the common side effects of steroid treatment. Steroids, particularly corticosteroids, are used to treat several conditions. Patients taking steroids may experience: 

  • Sugar ­ hyperglycemia
  • Soggy bones  causes osteoporosis
  • Sick  decreased immunity
  • Sad  depression
  • Salt  water and salt retention (hypertension)
  • Sex  decreased libido

ABCDEF

The basics of prenatal care can be remembered with the first six letters of the alphabet. Each letter represents a question for the nurse to ask, to further understand the condition of the pregnant person. The questions are: 

  • Amniotic fluid?
  • Bleeding?
  • Contractions?
  • Dysuria?
  • Edema?
  • Fetal movement?

The answers determine if further steps, including more expansive testing, need to be taken.

ACHES

This acronym is designed to help you recognize a patient experiencing severe complications from taking birth control pills. The letters stand for: 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Eye problems
  • Severe leg pain

AEIOU TIPS

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses discover possible causes of an altered mental state. This acronym stands for: 

  • Alcohol
  • Epilepsy/Electrolytes
  • Insulin/Inborn errors of metabolism
  • Overdose/Oxygen
  • Uremia
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Psychiatric/Poisoning
  • Stroke/Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

AIR RAID

AIR RAID is an acronym that can help nurses identify when the epiglottis is inflamed due to bacterial infection. The letters stand for: 

  • Airway inflammation
  • Increased pulse
  • Restlessness
  • Retraction of the ribs
  • Anxiety
  • Inspiratory stridor
  • Drooling

“Ali loves boxing matches”

This phrase is designed to help nurses remember the different common Parkinson’s medications. Each letter of this phrase, which starts with the name of a famous person who had Parkinson’s, the late boxing great Muhammad Ali, stands for:

  • Amantadine
  • Levodopa
  • Bromocriptine
  • MAO inhibitors

“All dogs eat kibble”

This phrase is designed to help medical professionals remember fat-soluble vitamins. “All dogs eat kibble” stands for vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins, as opposed to water-soluble vitamins, are absorbed and transported in organic matter including or similar to fats.

“A nice, delicious pie”

The first letters of this phrase are designed to help nurses remember the steps in the general nursing process. They include: 

  • Assessment
  • Nursing diagnosis
  • Plan
  • Interventions
  • Evaluation

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APGAR

APGAR is a score used to gauge the health and responsiveness of a newborn at one and five minutes old. APGAR stands for:

  • Appearance
  • Pulse
  • Grimace
  • Activity
  • Respiration

This is done at one and five minutes because newborn conditions can change very rapidly.

ASTHMA

Some treatment mnemonics use the name of the disease or condition they’re used for to make it easier to remember. This is the case with ASTHMA, which stands for the common treatments of asthma, including: 

  • Adrenergic (albuterol)
  • Steroids
  • Theophylline
  • Hydration (IV)
  • Mask (oxygen)
  • Antibiotics

B1 vs B2

This mnemonic device is designed to help you remember which beta-blockers to use. B1 is used for the heart because you have one heart. Whereas B2 is used on the lungs because you have two lungs.

BATTED

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses remember the activities of daily living. Understanding these activities can help understand whether a patient needs care at home, and what care they need. The letters stand for: 

  • Bathing
  • Ambulation (walking or maneuvering around the space)
  • Toileting
  • Transfers (moving from a seated or reclined position)
  • Eating
  • Dressing

BRAT

BRAT stands for the diet treatment for nonchronic diarrhea. The letters stand for: 

  • Banana
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

This should be a short-term diet, as it is low in nutrients and designed to soothe the stomach.

BUBBLE

This acronym is designed to help nurses conduct a postpartum assessment on a pregnant patient. The letters stand for: 

  • Breasts
  • Uterus
  • Bowels
  • Bladder
  • Lochia
  • Episiotomy/C-section incision

These assessments are designed to catch any sign of medical complications in a postpartum patient. This is separate from a discharge assessment.

CAUTION

The letters can help nurses identify some of the warning signs of cancer, including:

  • Change in bladder or bowels
  • A sore that won’t heal
  • Unusual bleeding and/or discharge
  • Thickening or lumpy tissue
  • Indigestion or trouble swallowing
  • Obvious change in the size of wart or mole
  • Nagging cough and/or hoarseness

“Clouds over grass, smoke over fire …”

The phrase “Clouds over grass, smoke over fire, chocolate on stomach” is designed to help nurses remember the proper ECG/EKG lead placement.

It signals that the white lead (clouds) goes over the green lead (grass), the black lead (smoke) goes over the red lead (fire) and the brown lead goes on the stomach. While these leads are color-coded for placement, this mnemonic can help you remember the proper placement.

“Hot and dry: sugar high …”

There’s a simple phrase that can help nurses understand and properly a diabetes reaction: “Hot and dry: sugar high. Cold and clammy: need some candy.” This simplifies whether a diabetic patient is experiencing too high or too low insulin levels.

DIG FAST

DIG FAST is the acronym to help nurses remember and identify the symptoms of mania, which is a type of altered mental state. The letters stand for:

  • Distractibility
  • Indiscretion or excessive involvement in pleasurable activities
  • Grandiosity
  • Flight of ideas
  • Activity increase
  • Sleeplessness
  • Talkativeness

“Drugs to LEAN on”

This phrase is designed to help nurses remember the medications most often used in emergencies. LEAN stands for: 

  • Lidocaine
  • Epinephrine
  • Atropine sulfate
  • Narcan

These recall techniques can help nurses recall vital information during high-stress emergencies.

FAME

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses identify the signs of endocarditis, which is inflammation of the inner linings of the heart. This phrase is designed to help you remember that a fever, anemia and a murmur indicate endocarditis.

FAST

FAST is an acronym used by the American Stroke Association, designed to help both medical and nonmedical personnel identify the signs of a stroke. The letters stand for: 

  • Facial drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call emergency services

“Act FAST” is a phrase also used to impart not just the signs, but the urgency of a stroke; the longer a stroke goes untreated, the more damage can be caused.

FFFFF

The five F’s as a mnemonic device are designed to help nurses and nursing students understand the risk factors of cholelithiasis, or gallstones. Cholelithiasis has several risk factors, but these are the most common:

  • Fat
  • Forty
  • Fertile
  • Female
  • Fair

It’s important to note that these are simply risk factors — identifying factors within the general population that may put a patient at higher risk for cholelithiasis — not symptoms themselves.

FRIED

FRIED is an acronym designed to help nurses identify symptoms of hypernatremia, a condition caused by high levels of sodium in the bloodstream. The letters stand for:

  • Fever
  • Restless
  • Increased fluid retention and increased blood pressure
  • Edema
  • Decreased urinary output/dry mouth

HELLP

This acronym is designed to help nurses recognize preeclampsia in pregnant patients. This can be a high-risk condition for the fetus and the mother-to-be. The letters stand for:

  • Hemolysis
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  •  Low platelet count

The letters can not only help nurses identify the condition of preeclampsia but also communicate urgency.

IDEA

This acronym is designed to help nurses remember the treatment for bradycardia, which is a slower-than-normal heart rate. The letters stand for:

  • Isoproterenol
  • Dopamine
  • Epinephrine
  • Atropine sulfate

All these medications are designed to increase beats per minute.

MADD DOG

This acronym is designed to help nurses remember the treatment for congestive heart failure. These letters stand for:

  • Morphine
  • Aminophylline
  • Digoxin
  • Dopamine
  • Diuretics
  • Oxygen
  • Gases

MONA

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses remember the treatment for myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack. The letters stand for:

“Mr. Dice Runs”

This phrase can help nurses remember all the systems of the body. They are: 

  • Muscular
  • Respiratory
  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Circulatory
  • Endocrine
  • Reproductive
  • Urinary
  • Nervous
  • Skeletal

PAINS

This acronym is designed to help nurses identify the signs of appendicitis. The letters stand for: 

  • Pain in the right lower quarter
  • Increased temperature
  • Nausea
  • Signs – McBurney’s or Psoas

PISO

This mnemonic is an acronym for the phrase “potassium inside, sodium outside” and is designed to help nurses remember where electrolytes are located in the cell.

“Please read his text”

This phrase is designed to help nurses identify cor pulmonale, which is a condition that causes the right side of the heart to fail. The first letters of “please read his text” stand for:

  • Peripheral edema
  • Raised JVP
  • Hepatomegaly
  • Tricuspid incompetence

PRICE

PRICE is an acronym that can help nurses, and even patients, remember how to properly treat a fracture. The letters stand for:

  • Pressure
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

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SALT LOSS

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses remember the signs of hyponatremia, or low blood sodium (not to be confused with hypernatremia, or high sodium levels). The letters in this mnemonic stand for: 

  • Stupor/coma
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Tendon reflexes decreased
  • Limp muscles
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Seizures/headaches
  • Stomach cramping

SAMPLE

This acronym is designed to help nurses remember the steps in a basic health history assessment. The letters stand for: 

  • Symptoms
  • Allergies
  • Medications
  • Past medical history
  • Last oral intake
  • Events leading up to the illness/injury

SLUDGE

This mnemonic is designed to help nurses identify symptoms of organs and glands being overstimulated, which can lead to life-threatening complications if untreated. The signs of these conditions include: 

  • Salivation
  • Lacrimation
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Gastric upset
  • Emesis, or vomiting

SPAMS

SPAMS is an acronym designed to help nurses remember the causes of heart murmurs. The letters stand for:

  • Stenosis of a valve
  • Partial obstruction
  • Aneurysm
  • Mitral
  • Septal defect

Heart murmurs can be caused by a variety of events, including genetics, trauma or aging.

STING

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be represented and remembered by the acronym STING. The letters stand for:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors or tachycardia
  • Intolerance to heat, irregular period, irritability, irregular eyes
  • Nervousness
  • Gastrointestinal problems

“These drugs can interact”

The first letters in this phrase helps nurses remember the following common drug interactions with one another:

  • Theophylline
  • Dilantin
  • Coumadin
  • Ilosone

TRAP

This acronym is designed to help nurses and medical professionals identify the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The letters stand for: 

  • Tremor
  • Rigidity
  • Akinesia
  • Postural instability

UNLOAD FAST

This acronym is designed to help nurses remember the treatment for congestive heart failure. The letters stand for: 

  • Upright position
  • Nitrates
  • Lasix
  • Oxygen
  • Ace inhibitors
  • Digoxin
  • Fluid decrease
  • Afterload decrease
  • Sodium decrease
  • Test: dig level, ABC, K+

ZZLSD

The medications that are used to treat HIV can be memorized with the acronym ZZLSD:

  • Zidovudine
  • Zalcitabine
  • Lamivudine
  • Stavudine
  • Didanosine

These are just a handful of the mnemonics that exist in the nursing profession. Depending on your field, you may have other, more specialized mnemonics to remember treatments, signs of conditions and medications. The nursing mnemonics in this article are simply some of the most common that describe patient health, treatments and medications learned in nursing school that may appear on your NCLEX test.

Once you graduate with a degree in nursing, pass the NCLEX and meet the licensing requirements for the state in which you want to work, you’ll be prepared to start your career as a registered nurse. That’s where University of Phoenix (UOPX) comes in. UOPX can help you continue your nursing education or enhance your career with an RN-BSN degree.

Are you ready to get started? Learn more about the RN-BSN program offered at UOPX!