What Does the Medical Term Code Red Mean?


Hospitals are the most common users of "code" systems to distinguish among emergency types. Hospitals use this system so emergency workers can quickly identify and react to an emergency. In a hospital, the word "code" is slang for cardiopulmonary arrest, an emergency medical condition in which a person's heart has suddenly failed and the patient needs immediate attention. The most common designation for this type of emergency is a code red.

Cardio Arrest

Cardio arrest, or cardiopulmonary arrest, means the normal circulation of the blood is abruptly stopped due to heart failure. To revive the patient, an emergency medical team must provide a cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more commonly known as CPR.


Each individual hospital assigns a system to deal with emergencies. "Codes" are the most common, yet the system varies from hospital to hospital. Each hospital decides how to manage its code system. Most often, code reds are announced over a loudspeaker or through a paging system.

Reacting to code red

Doctor and hospital personnel are trained to react quickly to any code red, especially if the designation of red means a life is in danger. Many hospitals have teams that are trained to work together to respond quickly and efficiently to code reds.

Different code reds

Code reds could also refer to other emergencies, such as a fire, an earthquake or a bombing. Code red could also mean that a hospital has temporarily reached its capacity. This means that ambulances must be redirected in all cases, except when the code-red hospital is the closest facility and a patient's life is threatened.

Heat-related code reds

Code reds are also adopted by some cities to warn residents about dangerously elevated temperatures. A Code Red Heat Alert is one such designation that includes instructions about where a person can find refuge from extreme heat.

Other facilities

School campuses, office buildings, government facilities and veterans hospitals also are known to use code systems or the code red terminology to represent any type of emergency.

Other codes

Code blue or code black are also used by agencies that have jurisdiction in cases of child abductions, bomb threats, terrorist activities, potentially harmful weather or mass casualties.

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