URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/medicalwordstranscript.html

Transcript for Understanding Medical Words: A Tutorial

Understanding medical words—a tutorial from the National Library of Medicine

Introduction

What's in this for me? You will learn: Why you and your doctor sometimes are speaking different languages. And how to put together parts of medical words. You'll also find: Quizzes to see what you've learned. And links to lists of word parts and abbreviations.

What did the doctor say? Did you ever feel as if you and your doctor weren't speaking the same language?

What did the doctor say? Sometimes even words that you think you understand can have a different meaning to your doctor!

For example: heart attack. Your uncle's heart stopped beating! Luckily, the emergency responders used CPR and revived him.

What? When you visit him, you say how glad you are that he survived his heart attack. The doctor says, "He didn't have a heart attack. He had a cardiac arrest but no muscle damage." What does he mean?

What's going on? To you, a heart attack means the heart doesn't beat. To the doctor, a heart attack means there is damage to the heart muscle.

Another example: fever. You take your temperature and it's 99 point five degrees. You call the doctor and say you have a fever of 99 point five degrees. She says, "That's not a fever." What does she mean?

What's going on? To you, a fever is anything above 98 point six degrees. To the doctor, a fever is a temperature over 100 point four degrees. You and your doctor sometimes ARE speaking a different language, using the same words!

So what can you do? If what you're hearing doesn't make sense, ask questions! You can also use the MedlinePlus dictionary or encyclopedia to find out more about meanings of medical words.

Tongue twisting words ahead! Now let's move on to the big words. Colonoscopic polypectomy? Esophagogastroduodenoscopy?

First, let's see what you know. [Questions might play in a different order] Click to start.

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Question 1 of 3: Define: Inflammation of the throat. [fill in the blank]-itis

  • ot
  • tonsill
  • encephal
  • rhin
  • neur
  • laryng

Correct! laryngitis

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Question 2 of 3: Define: Disease of the nerves. neuro-[fill in the blank]

  • itis
  • scopy
  • logy
  • pathy
  • megaly
  • gram

Correct! neuropathy

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Question 3 of 3: Define: Person working with the nerves. [fill in the blank]-ologist

  • ophthal
  • neur
  • cardi
  • mamm
  • colon
  • gastr

Correct! neurologist

Great job!

What did the doctor just say? Hyperglycemia? Or hypoglycemia? They sound alike, but one is high blood sugar and one is low blood sugar.

What did the doctor just say? Osteoarthritis? Or osteoporosis? They sound alike, but one is a painful problem with your joints and the other is a disease that makes your bones weak.

What did the doctor just say? Did she say you needed a colonoscopic polypectomy? What on earth do those two words mean?

You need a what? Transesophageal echocardiogram! What IS that? Medical words can be long and confusing. Let's figure out what these words mean.

Break it up

Break it up! Some medical words are made up of multiple parts. They might make more sense if you break the word into different parts.

Breaking up isn't hard to do! Long medical words can have a: Beginning (or prefix). If there's a beginning, it can be about size, shape, color, direction, amount. Middle (or root). The middle is often a part of the body. Ending (or suffix). If there's an ending, it can be about the same thing as the beginning, like size, or it can be about a test or it can describe a problem.

Breaking up long words. Trans and esophag and eal has a beginning (or prefix) of trans, middle (or root) of esophag, ending (or suffix) of eal. Echo and cardio and gram has a beginning (or prefix) of echo, middle (or root) of cardio, ending (or suffix) of gram.

Things to remember. Not all medical words have a beginning or ending. Sometimes word pieces can appear in different places, like cardiologist and myocardial. We'll get to what those mean in a minute.

Word Roots

Word Roots. Let's begin with body parts. The root of a medical word is usually a body part. Bone equals oste. Muscle equals myo. Nerves equal neur. Skin equals derm.

Word roots. The root of echocardiogram is cardio. It means heart.

Here are some roots for your heart and blood vessels. Your heart is cardio. Your veins and arteries are vas or vasc. The system of heart and blood vessels is sometimes called the cardiovascular system.

Here are some roots for your heart and blood vessels. Blood is hem or hemo or sangu. Blood vessels are angi or angio. Veins are ven or veno or phleb or phlebo. Aorta is aort. Heart is cardi or cardio. Arteries are arteri or arterio

Here are some roots for parts of your head. Brain is enceph. Nose is rhino. Eardrum is tympan or myringo. Tooth is odont or dento. Skull is crani. Eye is ophthalm or oculo. Ear is oto. Tongue is lingu.

Here are some roots for your digestive organs. Liver is hepat or hepato. Gallbladder is cholecyst. Esophagus is esoph or esopha. Large intestine is colo. Stomach is gastr or gastro. Small intestine is ileo. Your digestive organs are in your abdomen; the root is abdomen or abdomino.

Quick review. Brain is enceph. Eye is ocul or oculo. Nose is rhino. Liver is hepat or hepato. Head is ceph. Heart is cardi or cardio. Stomach is gastr or gastro. Large intestine is colo.

Let's Practice Roots. [Questions might play in a different order] Click to start.

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: a picture of the electrical waves your heart makes. echo-[fill in the blank]-gram

  • cephalo
  • arterio
  • neuro
  • cardio
  • osteo
  • oto

Correct! Echocardiogram.

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: the study of the bones. [fill in the blank]-ology

  • odont
  • rhin
  • phleb
  • ot
  • cardi
  • oste

Correct! Osteology

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: Inflammation of the throat. [fill in the blank]-itis

  • ot
  • tonsill
  • encephal
  • rhin
  • neur
  • laryng

Correct! laryngitis. Inflammation of the throat

Great job! Play again

Root words for the rest of your body. Chest is thorac or thoraco. Lung is pneumo or pleura. Breast is mamm or mammo. Blood clot is thromb or thrombo. Kidney is neph.

Root words for the rest of your body—bones and muscles. Muscles is myo. Shoulder is scapula. Arm is brachi or brachio. Wrist is carp or carpo. Rib is cost or costo. Back is dorsa. Bones are oste or osteo. Foot is pod or podo or ped or pedo.

Memory shortcuts. Sometimes a memory shortcut will help you remember words, like gastro—stomach or intestines—think of one of the things your digestive system produces—gas!

And a picture is worth a thousand words. Rhino is nose. Think rhinocerous!

Beginnings and Endings!

More roots. [Questions might play in a different order] Click to start

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: a slow heartbeat. brady-[fill in the blank]

  • gastro
  • rhino
  • derma
  • cardia
  • oculo
  • lacrima

Correct! Bradycardia

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: inflammation of the area around the heart. peri-[fill in the blank]-itis

  • gastr
  • cholecyst
  • hepat
  • col
  • rhin
  • card

Correct! Pericarditis

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: inflammation of the brain. [fill in the blank]-itis

  • ot
  • hepa
  • gastr
  • encephal
  • tonsill
  • col

Correct! Encephalitis

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: Person working with the nerves. [fill in the blank]-ologist

  • opthtal
  • mamm
  • cardi
  • gastr
  • neur
  • colon
  • neur

Correct! Neurologist

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: Inflammation of the nose. [fill in the blank]-itis

  • laryng
  • neph
  • hepat
  • ot
  • rhin
  • gastr
  • rhin

Correct! Rhinitis

Great job! Play again

Is it a beginning or an ending? We'll use a dash after the word part to show it's a beginning. Example: hyper dash. We'll use a dash before the word part to show it's an ending. Example: dash itis.

Beginnings and endings about size. Macro equals large. Micro equals small. Megalo or megaly equals large.

More beginnings and endings. Hyper equals above normal. Hypo equals below normal

More beginnings and endings. Tachy equals fast. Brady equals slow.

Begnnings and endings about where. Peri equals around. Trans equals across. Endo equals within or inside. Inter equals between

Here are some beginnings about tests and procedures. Echo equals using ultrasonic waves. Electro equals using electricity.

Here are some endings about tests and procedures. Ectomy equals removal of. Gram equals a picture. Graph or graphy equals the process of making a picture. Otomy equals making a cut in. Scopy equals use of instrument for viewing. Stomy equals create an opening.

Beginnings and endings about color. Chloro equals green. Leuk equals white. Eryth equals red. Cyan equals blue.

Beginnings and endings about problems. Dys equals not working correctly. Mal equals bad. Emia equals blood condition. Itis equals inflammation. Osis equals condition or disease. Pathy equals disease.

Who are you going to see? Specialties and specialists. Ology is the study of a part of the body. So, ologist is a person working with a specific part of the body or a specific disease. Iatry is medical treatment. So, iatrist is person providing specific treatment.

When you put things together: Derma equals skin and itis equals inflammation. Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Colo is colon and ostomy is opening of. Colostomy is creating an opening in the colon.

Putting things together. Now let's see how those beginnings, roots, and endings get combined.

Beginnings and endings. [Questions might play in a different order] Click to Start

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: inflammation of the area around the heart[fill in the blank]-card-[fill in the blank]

  • itis
  • micro
  • chloro
  • oscopy
  • peri
  • endo

Fill in the remaining blank

Correct! Pericarditis

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: Disease of the nerves. neuro-[fill in the blank]

  • megaly
  • scopy
  • logy
  • itis
  • gram
  • pathy

Correct! Neuropathy

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: A picture taken of the heart using electricity. [fill in the blank]-cardio-[fill in the blank]

  • gram
  • ologist
  • hyper
  • gram
  • scope
  • electro
  • echo

Fill in the remaining blank

Correct! Electrocardiogram

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: inflammation of the skin. dermat-[fill in the blank]

  • pathy
  • stomy
  • itis
  • graph
  • ectomy
  • iatry

Correct! Dermatitis

Click the correct word part to fill in the blank.

Define: too much cholesterol in the blood. [fill in the blank]-cholesterol-[fill in the blank]

  • exo
  • itis
  • pathy
  • hyper
  • megalo
  • emia

Correct! Hypercholesterolemia

Great job! Play again

Root equals cardio. Now that you know that cardi or cardio equals heart, look at what else you know! Carditis equals inflammation of the heart. Cardiology equals study of the heart. Cardiomyopathy equals disease of the heart muscle. Echocardiography equals heart test using ultrasonic waves.

Root equals colo. Now that you know that colo equals colon, look at what else you know! Colitis equals inflammation of the colon. Colectomy equals removal of the colon. Colonoscopy equals view of the colon.

More of what you know. If you know that itis equals inflammation, look at what else you know! Hepatitis equals inflammation of the liver. Pneumonitis equals inflammation of the lungs. Gastritis equals inflammation of the stomach. Encephalitis equals inflammation of the brain. Otitis equals inflammation of the ear.

And even more! Now that you know that ectomy equals removal, look at what else you know! Gastrectomy equals removal of the stomach. Colectomy equals removal of the colon. Nephrectomy equals removal of the kidney. Tonsillectomy equals removal of the tonsils. Appendectomy equals removal of the appendix.

Quiz time

Quiz time! You have learned a lot about medical words. Try this quiz to find out how much you know. [Questions might play in a different order]

Quiz time

Start

If the doctor wants to look at your colon what is this procedure called?

  • Microscopy
  • Mammography
  • Colonoscopy

Sorry, microscopy isn't correct. Micro means small. Please try again.

Sorry, that's not correct. Mamm means breast and graphy means taking a picture. Please try again.

Right! Col means colon and scopy means looking inside.

Electrocardiogram is the removal of the heart

  • "true"
  • "false"

Sorry, that's not correct. Gram means a picture, not removal. Please try again.

Right! The ending gram means a picture. An electrocardiogram is a picture of the electrical waves your heart makes.

Which word does not belong?

  • hypersensitivity
  • hyperactivity
  • hypotension

Sorry, that's not the right answer. Hypersensitivity has a part that's the same as one of the other words. Please try again.

Sorry, that's not the right answer. Hyperactivity has a part that's the same as one of the other words. Please try again.

Correct! The other two words said "hyper," which means high. You chose "hypo" which means low. Very good!

Appendectomy is the removal of the gall bladder.

  • "true"
  • "false"

Sorry, that's not correct. The root for gallbladder is chole. Please try again.

Right. Appendectomy is the removal of the appendix, not the gallbladder.

What body system does osteoporosis affect?

  • heart
  • bone
  • eye

Sorry, that's not the right answer. Osteo doesn't mean heart. Please try again.

Correct! Osteo means bone

Sorry, that's not the right answer. Osteo doesn't mean eye. Please try again.

What is it called if you have an inflammation of the colon?

  • Colostomy
  • Colitis
  • Cholecystectomy

Sorry, that's not correct. Col means colon but ostomy doesn't mean inflammation. Please try again.

Sorry, that's not correct. Chole means gallbladder, and ectomy means remove. Please try again.

Right! Itis means inflammation!

Pericarditis is inflammation of the kidney

  • "true"
  • "false"

Sorry, that's not correct. The root for kidney is neph. Please try again.

Right! Pericarditis is inflammation of the area around the heart.

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver.

  • "true"
  • "false"

Sorry, that's not correct. Please try again.

Good! Hep is the root for the liver.

Great job! Replay

Now if you go to the doctor and say, "It hurts to swallow. My nose is running and I can't stop coughing." Your doctor says, "Open wide and say ahh." After looking your doctor says, "You have pharyngitis." You now know what that is—Inflammation (itis) of your throat (pharyng)

Of course, there are exceptions. You may not always be able to figure out what the words mean, but with the knowledge you've gained, you can make a start.

Hypertension: what is it? Sometimes it's hard to figure out what a word means even if you've broken it apart and you know some of the pieces. You know that hyper means high. But what does hypertension mean? That you are REALLY stressed out?

Hypertension equals high blood pressure. Hyper equals high. Tension equals stretch. Hypertension comes from pressure made by your blood against your arteries. In this case, it's easier to look it up!

Back to transesophageal echocardiogram. We already figured out echocardiogram. Echo equals using ultrasonic waves. Cardio equals heart. Gram equals recording. Echocardiogram equals recording of a heart test using ultrasonic waves.

Back to transesophageal echocardiogram. Trans equals across. Esophag equals esophagus. Eal equals pertaining to. The test goes across the esophagus. During a transesophageal echocardiogram, you swallow a tube that does a heart test using ultrasonic waves.

Abbreviations

Some final tips about "alphabet soup." You know—those strings of letters that you see on requests for lab work or other tests. They aren't words—the letters are shorthand for longer words. They may be abbreviations or acronyms. (words made of letters from several words)

Here are some examples. CBC equals Complete Blood Count, a lab test that measures the number of different types of blood cells. UTI equals urinary tract infection, an infection of the kidney or bladder.

Who invents these? And why? Health professionals invent these so the don't have to deal with those long words! Sometimes the shortcut is the first letters of a group of words. Sometimes the shortcut is selected letters from one long word.

Who invents these? And How? MRI equals magnetic resonance imaging, a type of diagnostic test using images. CMV equals cytomegalovirus, a virus that causes a variety of infections.

It's all Greek to me! Or Latin! Sometimes the shortcut comes from roots in Greek or Latin. Your doctor gives you a prescription. It says b-i-d. You think, What's that?

It's all Greek to me! Or Latin! When you get the prescription, the bottle says, "Twice a day." Where's b-i-d? B-i-d comes from the latin "bis in die" which means twice-daily dosage. Sometimes medical words really ARE a foreign language!

Getting creative with shortcuts. To test the function of your thyroid gland, your doctor may order two tests. She's written T three and T four. What's that about? T three stands for triiodothyronine. Tri is Greek for 3. T four stands for tetraiodothyronine or thyroxine. Tetra is Greek for 4. Which would you rather write?

Getting creative with shortcuts part two. Your doctor might order an electrocardiogram, a test that measures electrical waves from your heart. He might write e-k-g on the prescription pad. Why is electrocardiogram abbreviated e-k-g?

Getting creative with shortcuts part three. It's to make sure that you get a heart test instead of a brain test called an electroencephalogram, which is written as e-e-g. That could look like e-c-g if the doctor wrote it in a hurry.

Learn more.

Want to learn more? You can find more information in our lists of word parts and abbreviations. You can also look up abbreviations and acronyms in the MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary.

Finally, remember, if you need more information, you can always look it up on MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.

Great job! Congratulations! You've come a long way in learning about medical words!