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Resources for medical terminology

Most medical terms are derived from Latin or Greek and contain two or more components.

Medical terms are better understood when you divide them into their component parts.

To understand a medical term, break it down into its component parts - root(s), prefix, suffix and combining vowels. The basic definition of a word part remains the same when combined with various components.

Here are some tips on understanding medical terminology -

TIP #1 - Most medical terms contain two or more of these parts:

Root(s) - the word's essential meaning; a term may have two roots
Prefix - added to the beginning of a root word to make it more specific
Suffix - added to the end of the root word for specificity
Linking or combining vowels - placed in between word parts to help with pronunciation

For example,

Myocarditis - myo/card/itis
Myo = muscle (root), card = heart (root) and itis = inflammation (suffix) or inflammation of the heart muscle. There are two roots, muscle and heart.
Percutaneous - per/cutan/eous
Per = through (prefix), cutan = skin (root) and -eous = pertaining to (suffix); meaning something through the skin.
Suprascapular - supra/scapular
Supra = above (prefix), scapula = shoulder blade (root), and -r = relative to (suffix); relative to the area above the shoulder blade.

TIP #2 - The definitions of root words, prefixes and suffixes remain the same when they are combined to produce different terms.

Here are three examples:

A. The root word for skin is derm. Its combining forms are derma-, dermat-, dermot-, ;and dermo- . Look at some medical terms utilizing this root.

Dermatitis - Dermat (root) and -itis (suffix) inflammation; condition of inflamed skin.
Dermatology - Dermat (root) and -ology (suffix) branch of knowledge or science; medical specialty of diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases.
Pyoderma - Pyo (root) combining form of the word for pus and derma; skin infection involving pus formation.

B. Card is the root for heart.

Cardiovascular - means pertaining to the heart and vessels.
Cardiocentesis - surgical puncture of the heart.
Cardiology - as in Example A above, the definition here is the study of the heart and its functions.

C. The root for blood is hem.

Hemorrhage - the suffix -rrhage means bursting forth; hemorrhage is the escape of blood from tissue.
Hemostasis - adding the suffix -stasis (arrest in a process) gives us the process by which bleeding is stopped.

TIP # 3 - Similarly, prefixes and suffixes are defined the same when combined with various roots. They are never used alone, but further define root words.

Here are some common prefixes in medical terminology:

Auto- = self; for example, autoimmune or autogenous
Anti- = against; antisepsis or antibodies
De- = reverse, remove; dehydrate, defibrillate
Dys- = abnormal, difficult; dyspnea, dysuria
Contra- = opposed; for example, contraception, contraindication
Hyper- = above, excessive; hypertensive, hyperglycemia

Suffixes attach to the end of roots and describe certain actions, such as these surgical suffixes -

-ectomy = surgical removal; thyroidectomy
-plasty = surgical repair; angioplast
-stomy = creation of a new opening; colonostomy

or these suffixes for procedures or equipment -

-graph = recording instrument; electrocardiograph
-scope = instrument to examine visually; endoscope
-therapy = course of treatment; chemotherapy

Disciplines listed alphabetically with subjects - includes pronunciations

Anesthesiology (an-es-thEs'-E-al-a-jE)-medical specialty dealing with relief of pain and administration of medicine to relax muscles and render patient unconscious during medical procedures.

Angiology (an-jE-'äl-a-jE)-study of blood vessels and lymph vessels

Bacteriology (bak-"tir-E-'äl-a-jE)-scientific study of bacteria

Biology (bI-'äl-a-jE) - science of living organisms and vital processes

Cardiology (kärd-E-'äl-a-jE)-medical specialty dealing with the heart, its anatomy, normal functions and disorders

Cytology (sI-'täl-a-jE)-science of the structure, function, multiplication, pathology and life history of cells

Cytopathology (sI-'to-pa-'thäl-a-jE)-study of changes at the cellular level caused by disease; cellular pathology

Dermatology (der-ma-'täl-a-jE)-medical specialty concerning the characteristics - anatomic, physiologic and pathologic - and functions of skin; also, the diagnosis and treatment of skin disorders

Embryology (em-brE-'al-a-jE)-study of development during the embryonic stage, fertilization to birth

Endocrinology (en-d0-kri-`näl-a-jE)-study of anatomic, physiologic, and pathologic characteristics of the endocrine system of glands; diagnosis and treatment of endocrine disorders

Enzymology (en-zI-'mäl-a-jE)-study of enzymes and enzymatic action

Epidemiology (ep-i-dE-mE-a-'läj-E)-science concerned with incidence and risk of disease & injury in populations for the purpose of control or prevention

Ethology (E-'thäl-a-jE)-scientific study of animal behavior, particularly in their native habitat

Etiology (Et-E-'äl-a-jE )-study or theory of the causes and origins of diseases

Gastroenterology (ga-strO-ent-a-'räl-a-jE)-study of diseases affecting the GI tract including stomach, intestines, gall bladder and bile duct

Gerontology (ger-on-`tal-O-jE)-study of all aspects of the aging process and associated problems

Gynecology (gIn-a-'käl-a-jE)-study of diseases of female reproductive tract

Helminthology (hel-min-'thäl-a-jE)-scientific study of parasitic worms

Hematology (hE-ma-'täl-a-jE)-medical science of blood and blood-forming tissues

Herpetology (her-pE-'täl-a-jE)-branch of zoology specializing in reptiles and amphibians

Histology (his-'täl-a-jE)-branch of anatomy dealing with the minute structure, composition and function of tissues

Immunology (im-mU-'näl-a-jE)-branch of medical science studying phenomena of the body's immune system

Microbiology (mI-krO-bI-'äl-a-jE)-science of microscopic forms of life including algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses

Morphology (mor-'fäl-a-jE)-science of the forms and structures of organisms; physical shape and size of a specimen, plant or animal

Nephrology (ni-'fräl-a-jE)-study of the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the kidney

Neurology (nU-'ral-a-jE) branch of medical science dealing with the nervous system, including the brain & its disorders

Odontology (O-dän-'täl-a-jE)-science of the teeth and surrounding structures of the oral cavity

Oncology (än-'käl-a-jE)-medical science pertaining to tumors and malignancies

Ophthalmology (op-thal-'mäl-a-jE)-medical science dealing with anatomy, physiology and pathology of the eye

Osteology (äs-tE-'äl-a-jE)-branch of medicine dealing with development and diseases of bone tissue

Otolaryngology (ah-tO-lar-an-`ga-lä-jE)-study of the medical and surgical treatment of the head and neck, including ears, nose and throat

Otology (ah-`tol-a-jE)-branch of medical science dealing with the treatment of diseases and disorders of the ear

Parasitology (par-a-sa-'täl-a-jE)-scientific study of parasites

Pathology (pa-`thal-a-jE)-study of the characteristics, causes and effects of disease, especially the structural and functional changes produced by it

Pharmacology (fär-ma-'kal-a-jE)-science of drugs and their action on the body

Physiology (fiz-E-'äl-a-jE)-field of science concerning the functions and characteristics of humans and other living organisms

Physiopathology (fiz-E-O-pa-'thäl-a-jE)-study of functions in disease, or as modified by disease

Radiology (rA-dE-`al-a-jE)-medical science dealing with radiant energy and radioactive substances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease

Rheumatology (rü-ma-'täl-a-jE)-study of disorders characterized by inflammation, degeneration or metabolic derangement of connective tissue and related structures of the body.

Theriogenology (thir-E-O-ja-'näl-a-jE)-branch of veterinary medicine dealing with reproduction in animals

Toxicology (toks-a-'käl-a-jE)-scientific study of poisons, their actions, detection and treatment of conditions produced by them

Urology (ur-äl-a-jE)-medical specialty concerning with the anatomy, physiology, disorders and care of the urinary tract in both men and women, and of the male genital organs

Virology (vI-'räl-a-jE)-branch of microbiology concerned with viruses and viral diseases

Zoology (zO-'äl-a-jE)-the biology of animals, other than humans

Note: pronunciations from MEDLINEplus Appendix A:  Word Parts and What They Mean. Site viewed on 4/17/2024.


Subjects listed alphabetically with disciplines

Aging, process and associated problems Gerontology
     biology of Zoology
     reproduction in Theriogenology
     behavior of Ethology
Inflammatory diseases, arthritis & connective tissue disorders Rheumatology
Bacteria Bacteriology
Bile duct, see Gastrointestinal tract  
     and blood-forming tissues Hematology
     vessels and lymph vessels Angiology
Bones, development & diseases of Osteology
Cells - changes in, caused by disease Cytopathology
     structure, function, multiplication, pathology and life history Cytology
     incidence and risk Epidemiology
     causes and origins Etiology
     essential nature & effects Pathology
Drugs, action on the body Pharmacology
Ears Otology
Embryos, development of from fertilization to birth Embryology
Endocrine system - glands & hormones Endocrinology
Enzymes and their action Enzymology
Eyes Ophthalmology
Gall bladder, see Gastrointestinal tract  
Gastrointestinal tract, stomach, intestines, gall bladder, bile duct            Gastroenterology
Genital organs, male Urology
Head & neck region including ears, nose and throat Otolaryngology
Heart - anatomy, normal functions & disorders Cardiology
Hormones, see Endocrine system  
Immune system Immunology
Intestines, see Gastrointestinal tract  
Kidneys, study of Nephrology
Nervous system, including the brain Neurology
Organisms, living  
     forms & structures Morphology
     functions & characteristics Physiology
     vital processes Biology
     microscopic Microbiology
Pain, relief of during illness or medical procedures Anesthesiology
Parasites Parasitology
     parasitic worms Helminthology
Poisons Toxicology
Radiant energy, see Radioactive substances  
Radioactive substances in diagnosis & treatment of disease Radiology
Reproductive system, female Gynecology
     characteristics - anatomic, physiologic and pathologic;  
     diagnosis & treatment of disorders Dermatology
Stomach, see Gastrointestinal tract  
Teeth, including surrounding tissues of the oral cavity Odontology
Tissues, structure, composition, function Histology
Tumors, including malignancies Oncology
Urinary tract, male & female Urology
Viruses and viral diseases Virology