Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

"Code Blue", "Code Black": What Does "Code" Mean?

"Code Red," "Code Blue," "Code Black" -- people sometimes wonder what these terms mean, especially if they're fans of TV hospital dramas.

Technically, there's no formal definition for a code, but doctors often use the term as slang for a cardiopulmonary arrest happening to a patient in a hospital or clinic, requiring a team of providers (sometimes called a code team) to rush to the specific location and begin immediate resuscitative efforts.

Recommended Related to First Aid

Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds can be dramatic and frightening. Luckily, most nosebleeds are not serious and can be handled fairly easily. They are divided into two types, depending on whether the bleeding is coming from the anterior (front of the nose) or posterior (back of the nose). Anterior nosebleeds make up more than 90% of all nosebleeds. The bleeding usually comes from a blood vessel at the very front part of the nose. Anterior nosebleeds are usually easy to control, either by measures that can be performed...

Read the Nosebleeds article > >

Each hospital or clinic can decide how it wishes to manage and inform staff of potential emergencies. Many institutions use colors (e.g. Code Red, Code Blue) to identify specific types of emergencies. Code Red and Code Blue are both terms that are often used to refer to a cardiopulmonary arrest, but other types of emergencies (for example bomb threats, terrorist activity, child abductions, or mass casualties) may be given code designations, too. Colors, numbers, or other designations may follow a code announcement to identify the type of emergency that is occurring.

Some hospitals announce emergencies over a public address system, while others just alert the necessary personnel via a pager system. Also, the use of the term "code" to signify that an emergency is occurring is not limited to medical practice. Other institutions, such as office buildings, schools, or government facilities, may use code designations to alert personnel that an emergency is occurring.

There are no standard definitions or conventions for the use of code designations. While code blue does refer to a cardiopulmonary arrest at many hospitals, it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing everywhere. But even if you aren't sure about the meaning of announcements you may hear, keep in mind that every hospital or institution has its own policies and conventions for notification of personnel in the event of emergencies, and the doctors and staff are trained to recognize and respond appropriately to these announcements.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 16, 2013

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

sore foot
3 warning signs.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
What it looks like.
checking blood sugar
Symptoms and treatment.
man behind computer screen
10 possible causes.
Woman with itchy watery eyes
Common triggers.
man screaming
Making sense of symptoms.
human liver
What puts you at risk?
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
two male hands
Understanding RA.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.