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Cheat sheet of medical terms

Many common medical terms make us afraid, overwhelmed or just too embarrassed to ask for explanations. We’ve all had the experience of being in the doctor's office or in the hospital and not understanding some of the medical terms being discussed. But if we don't know what the doctor just said, we can't effectively contribute to our own health care. Bottom line: it's important that you understand clearly what your physician is saying. No need to be embarrassed - medical professionals want you to understand what’s going on so that you can better contribute to your recovery. 
 
What follows is a medical "cheat sheet" of some - but not all - common medical terms. Feel free to print out this quick reference guide and take it with you to your doctors' appointments. Want more? Pick up the Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary or go online to explore common medical terms and their meanings at medicinenet.com.  
 
Before you review the terms below, take a moment to understand the pattern used to create them. Basically, each term is made up of a root word plus a suffix. Breaking the term into these two parts can help you better decode its meaning.
 
The "root" word is the "object" of the ailment – the body part, for example. The suffix is the ending of the word and refers to some aspect of the root term. For example, the suffix, "pathy," means disease. So, when you see a word ending in "pathy," it’s referring to a disease, as in nephropathy, which means disease of the kidney (nephro). There are a number of suffixes or endings to medical terms that simply mean “pertaining to” and they are: -ac, -al, -ary, -ic, -ical, -ous, -tic and -ar. For example, cardiac means pertaining to the heart, venous means pertaining to the vein and pelvic means pertaining to the pelvis.
 
With this background info in mind, here's our list of common medical terms:
 

Root word for body parts

What it means

Examples

cardi

Heart

Cardiac arrest (heart stopping)

coli

Large intestine or colon

Colitis (inflammation of the colon)

derm

Skin

Dermatologist (doctor specializing in skin)

duodeno

Small intestine

Duodenum (first part of small intestine)

encephal

Brain

Encephalitis (inflammation of brain).

gastro

Stomach

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

hemo/a

Blood

Hemodialysis (dialysis machine filters waste products from blood)

hepat

Liver

Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)

myel

Spinal cord or bone marrow

Myelofibrosis (disorder of the bone marrow)

nephro

Kidney

Nephropathy (damage or disease of the kidney)

neur

Nerves

Neurotoxin (a substance that damages nerves)

opthal or ocul

Eye

Ophthalmologist (eye doctor)

oste

Bone

Osteoporosis (bones that become porous making them fragile)

phleb or ven

Vein

Intravenous (within a vein, e.g., IV therapy)

pneumo

Lung

Pneumonia (infection of the lung)

 

Suffix for conditions

What it means

Examples

-algia

Pain

Myalgia (muscle pain)

-it is

Inflammation

Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)

-lith

Stones or calcifications

Tonsillolith (tonsil stone)

-oid

Resemble

Fibroid (non-cancerous tumor of connective tissue)

-oma

Tumor

Lymphoma (cancer in lymphatic cells affecting the immune system)

-pathy

Disease

Nephropathy (disease of the kidney)

-phasia

Speech

Aphasia (without speech usually following a stroke)

-plegia

Paralysis

Hemiplegia (Paralysis affecting only one side of the body)

-rrhage

Burst forth

Hemorrhage (blood escaping from blood vessels)

-sclerosis

Hardening

Atherosclerosis (thickening of artery wall)

 

Suffix for surgery and procedures

What it means

Examples

-centesis

Tap or puncture to drain fluid

Amniocentesis (drawing fluid from amniotic sac)

-ectomy

Removal of

Mastectomy (surgical removal of one or both breasts)

-oscopy

To examine with a scope exploring the body cavity

Colonoscopy (examination of the colon)

-ostomy

Small surgical hole leading out of the body

Tracheostomy (incision in trachea)

-otomy

Large surgical opening

Ovariotomy (surgical incision of an ovary)

-tripsy

To crush

Lithotripsy (procedure to crush kidney stones)

 

 
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