Understanding the name: There are a plethora of abbreviations used in the medical world. Some are commonly accepted and others are not. What happens when the abbreviation becomes more common than the actual name?
So common is the abbreviation of “H2” in H2 antagonist that there are students (and hopefully only a few health professionals) who do not know what the “H” stands for.
H2 Antagonists such as ranitidine (Zantac) are common medicines used to help reduce stomach acid, thereby treating conditions such as heartburn and GERD. They do this by blocking H2 receptors of the parietal cells in the stomach. And this is a fine explanation to the majority of patients that use these medicines. But how would you answer a patient if they asked, “Why do I have this medicine for stomach acid, for my allergic reaction?”
The “H” in H2 stands for histamine as in histamine (receptor 2) antagonist or an antihistamine at receptor 2.
In everyday language, the term antihistamine generally refers to H1 antagonists, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claratyne) or Promethazine (Phenergan), as the activation of these receptors plays a larger role in allergies than H2. However H2 receptors are not just located in the stomach. The activation of H1 and H2 contributes to vasodilatation which leads to the dangerously low blood pressure seen in anaphylaxis and they both also contribute to mucus secretion seen in allergic reactions like hay fever. Also when taken together, H2 antagonist potentiates the effects of H1 antagonist.
Use abbreviations and shorthand form to enhance your learning not hinder it. So, even if you did not know that H2 Antagonists could be used for allergies, if you knew that “H” stood for histamine, you could explain the logic behind using them for an allergy.
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