Comparisons of Measurement Systems

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Chapter 4

Comparisons of Measurement Systems


Identify the following abbreviations related to systems of measurement used with prescriptions.

1. mg _____________________

2. mcg _____________________

3. g _____________________

4. gr _____________________

5. kg _____________________

6. ″ _____________________

7. oz _____________________

8. image _____________________

9. mEq _____________________

10. image _____________________

11. gtt _____________________

12. tsp _____________________

13. tbsp _____________________

14. image _____________________

    Show your calculations as you complete the following conversions. When calculating in U.S. Customary System, use ounce and pound conversions as found in that system.

15. 15 gtts = _____________________ tsp

16. 6 tbsp = _____________________ oz

17. 15 tsp = _____________________ tbsp

18. 1 mcg = _____________________ mg

19. 6 kg = _____________________ mg

20. image viii = image _____________________

21. 4 c = _____________________ oz

22. 6 pt = _____________________ qt

23. 3 tbsp = _____________________ oz

24. 250 mg = _____________________ g

25. 0.125 mg = _____________________ mcg

26. 1.56 g = _____________________ mg

27. 5.6 kg = _____________________ g

28. image ii = image _____________________

29. 2.5 g = _____________________ mg

30. 60″ = _____________________ ′

31. 2′ = _____________________ ″

32. 5 kg = _____________________ mcg

33. 44# = _____________________ oz

34. image = image _____________________

35. 6 tbsp = _____________________ tsp

36. 2.5 g = _____________________ kg

37. 60 gtts = _____________________ tsp

38. image iv = image _____________________

39. 6 c = _____________________ oz

40. 6 c = _____________________ pt


Three measurement systems are presently used in the medical field to calculate drug amounts in weight, length, or volume, although length is not as commonly used in the pharmaceutical field as in other medical disciplines. One of the three systems is used in the United States on a daily basis—the household measurement, or U.S. Customary system. This system uses measurements such as cups, teaspoons, and pints. The International System of Units (abbreviated SI from the French, Système International d’Unités), or the metric system, is used in most of the remaining world. Its measurements are milligrams, grams, milliliters, and so on. The apothecary system, which uses grains and drams, is an older system that has been used in pharmacy for many years but is used less frequently today. Knowledge of these three systems is absolutely necessary so you can interpret medication orders or prescriptions and to advise patients in administration of drugs as needed. To administer the correct amount of the medication on a consistent basis, the pharmacy technician must understand how to use the medication that was probably written on an order, whether a prescription or chart, in the metric, U.S. Customary, or apothecary system. The conversion of values from one system to another is discussed in the next chapter, but this chapter is designed to ensure that you have basic knowledge of the measurements, their abbreviations, and the system in which each occurs.

All three systems—household, metric, and apothecary—have units of measure for weight and volume. In the household system, weight is in pounds and ounces with volume in quarts, pints, cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, and the like. The metric system is based on grams for weight and liters for volume. Length is found in the household as yards, feet, and inches and in metric systems as meters. But length is not found in the apothecary system. The apothecary units of interest are grains for weight with drams and ounces for liquids.

Metric weight is the measurement used most often in pharmacy to show a dosage unit. Most medications are ordered and supplied by the weight of a drug in solid, liquid, or gaseous amounts such as milligrams or grains per tablet or per liquid amount such as milliliters. Household units of weights are usually seen in conversions for individual dosing at home and are found by volume rather than actual weight. We do not use pounds and ounces in dosage administration. Start thinking about metric units of weight—milligrams and grams—and remember that these weight measurements are most often used in the medical field because of accuracy and ease of the system based on units of 10. Other weight measurements include pounds and ounces in household weights, kilograms and micrograms in the metric system, and grains for the apothecary system.

Volume is capacity or how much a container of liquid medication holds. Amounts of medications per teaspoon or tablespoon would be the weight of medication found in the liquid measurement or dosage per volume. Volume measurements include milliliters, liters, quarts, pints, teaspoons, tablespoons, and minims or drops.

Length is used in household and metric systems to measure height or body circumference as well as length of a suture line. In pharmacy, length is only used to measure medications that require application to the body that must be measured in inches or centimeters or millimeters. In this case, the means of application is usually premarked on a dispensing paper for ease in ensuring that the correct amount of medication is being administered, such as with nitroglycerin ointment. Another pharmaceutical use of length is in finding body surface area (BSA) in which height and weight are compared for dosage calculation (BSA is discussed in Chapter 10). Length measurements also include inches, feet, centimeters, meters, kilometers, yards, and miles.

Some of the previously mentioned measurements are those you use daily, whereas others may be foreign and need explanation. This chapter covers the basic measurements per system, which are essential for learning conversions in Chapter 5.

Household Or U.S. Customary System

The household or U.S. customary system of measure is being introduced first because much of it is already familiar. From elementary school to the present, these measurements have been taught and used in your daily life, such as with cooking. Measurements are based on the English system of measures, which had its beginnings with the Greeks and Romans. These measurements will most likely be used in the home setting for administration of medications, although use of a measurement device that is provided with the medication increases patient safety. Therefore, you must be familiar with this system, although it is the least accurate of the measurement systems. In a hospital setting, these measurements would not be as appropriate.

Household measurements are expressed in Arabic numbers with the abbreviation for each following the number, such as 5 tsp or image pt. Table 4-1 provides the basic household measurements for weight accompanied by abbreviations and equivalents as appropriate.


Household Measurements of Weight

Ounce oz
Pound lb, # 16 oz
Ton T 2000#

Some medication labels include household measurements as well as metric measurements as seen on the label for Retrovir (Figure 4-1).

FIGURE 4-1 Label for Retrovir.

Table 4-2 gives the measurements of length often seen in the medical setting. A mile is also a measurement of length but is not used in pharmaceutical calculations.


Household Measurements of Length

Inch in, ″
Foot ft, ′ 12 inches
Yard yd 36 inches, 3 feet

Table 4-3 shows the household measurements of volume or liquid used most frequently in the home and in pharmaceutical calculations. Always remember that the size of a drop is totally dependent on the size of the opening in the dropper and viscosity of the liquid; therefore the 60 drops per teaspoon often found in measurement tables for household measurements is only an approximation. Drops used with intravenous therapy are stated in invariable amounts in the metric system as will be seen in later chapters. Also, household utensils are not necessarily accurate, so the amounts measured in these utensils should be considered only approximations.


Household Measurements of Volume

Drops gtts
Teaspoon tsp, Tsp, t 60 drops (depending on the size of the dropper and the viscosity of the medication)
Tablespoon tbsp, Tbsp, tbs, T 3 teaspoons
Ounce oz 2 tbsp or 6 tsp
Cup C, c 8 oz
Pint pt 2 c, 16 oz
Quart qt 2 pt, 4 c, 32 oz
Gallon gal 4 qt, 8 pt, 16 c, 128 oz

Using Ratio and Proportion for Finding Equivalency with Household System

After cross multiplying the equation will be as follows:

< ?xml:namespace prefix = "mml" />1x=48 in


NOTE: ft may be cancelled because both equivalents of the same measurement are known and appear on both sides of the fractional equation.

So,4 ft=48inches because thexis asking for inches.


NOTE: tbsp may be cancelled because both equivalents of the same measurement are known and appear on both sides of the fractional equation.

Using Fractional Method for Finding Equivalency in Household Measurements

Another method of solving the unknown is to place the known equivalent and unknown equivalent into fractions and cross-multiply, as follows:

4 ft=_________in(Unknown equivalent)1 ft=12 in(Known equivalent)


NOTE: ft may be cancelled because both equivalents of the same measurement are known on the functional equation.

x in=12×4or48


Therefore,4 ft=48 in



4 tbsp=___________tsp(Unknown equivalent)3 tsp=1 tbsp(Known equivalent)


NOTE: tbsp may be cancelled because both equivalents of the same measurement are known.



Therefore,4 tbsp=12 tsp.