Healthcare 101: Medical Terminology for Beginners
If you’re new to allied healthcare, you’ve probably discovered a mountain of important medical words that you’re required to memorize. While it can be daunting, we’ve compiled some excellent tips and tricks to help you on your way.
Call it your “medical terminology cheat sheet” if you like, but as a healthcare student, you need to thoroughly prepare for your final tests and exams – let this list help up your knowledge, fast. Once you understand how to memorize the most common medical terms, everything else will fall into place.
Introduction to Basic Medical Terminology
As a future healthcare worker, it’s important to understand basic Greek and Latin roots. While they may seem incredibly complex at first, don’t worry: you already use ancient words every day (like automobile, multimedia, and video) – without even thinking about them!
Most medical terms consist of three basic components: the root word (the base of the term), prefixes (in front of the root word), and suffixes (at the end of the root word). When combined, you can define a specific medical term.
For example, the word “neuroblastoma” can be broken down this way:
“Neuro” - nerves
“Blast” - immature cell development
“Oma” - a cyst or tumor
How to Study Medical Terminology: Start at the Root
Almost every medical term consists of root words and likely uses prefixes (at the beginning) and/or suffixes (at the end) to modify the end result. Some of the most common roots include:
Bronchitis = inflammation of the airways
carcinogenic = cancer causing
pericarditis = heart inflammation
cytotoxic = toxic to the cell
dermatitis = inflammation of the skin
Gastroenteritis = inflammation of the stomach and intestines
Gynecology = branch of medicine related to the female reproductive system
histology = study of tissue
hepatoblastoma = liver cancer
bad / harmful
malignant = growing, spreading
nephrotoxic = harmful to the kidneys
neuroblast = an immature nerve cell
mass / tumor
oncology = the study of cancer
bone / bony tissue
osteosarcoma = bone cancer
Medical Prefixes You Should Know
Prefixes change the meaning of the original word: A prefix (in front of a word) can put an unknown word into perspective.
For example, if a word begins with “aden-” or “adeno-”, it should always relate to the glands.
The 50 Most Common Medical Prefixes
Co-, con-, com-
Related to cells
Beyond; outside of
Half; half of
Above; excessive; beyond
Below; beneath; deficient
After; following; behind
In front of; before
Through or across
The 50 Most Common Medical Suffixes
Studying medical suffixes is great because there are a lot fewer to memorize than prefixes! Medical suffixes typically indicate whether the word is a procedure, disease, condition, or part of speech (e.g. verb, noun, adjective).
For example, if you hear the word “adenocarcinoma”, the “oma” will inform you that a tumor is present. In this case, a cancerous tumor.
Some common medical suffixes include:
To expand; stretch
Related to blood
Recording of something
Small, possibly microscopic
Process or condition
Breakdown; deterioration; separation
Mass; tumor; cyst
Condition of bone
Emotion or disease
To control; stop
Create a new opening
Process of cutting; making an incision
When you understand where important medical terms stem from, it’s far easier to read patient charts, communicate with members of staff, and expand your knowledge.
How Many of These Medical Terms Can You Define?
Now that you’ve learned some common root words (and the 100 most common medical prefixes and suffixes), you can start to move onto some common language used in healthcare.
Although this list is far from exhaustive, it can still be used as the basis for a quickfire medical terminology test:
Abatement: A reduction in the severity of symptoms.
Abiotic: Unrelated to living organisms (physical, not biological).
Abortive: When a disease is cut short.
Abrasion: Damage to the skin caused by friction.
Abruption: A sudden separation or breaking off.
Ambulatory: Also referred to as outpatient care.
Analgesia: The removal of pain while a patient is conscious.
Benign: An abnormal but non-threatening growth or tumor.
Compression: The application of pressure to stop bleeding or prevent further injury.
Etiology: The cause of a certain disease or condition.
Exacerbation: Deterioration/worsening of a medical condition
Hematemesis: Vomiting of blood
Hematology: Study, treatment, and prevention of blood diseases and conditions
Idiopathic: Condition with an unknown cause.
Intractable: Medical conditions that are difficult to treat or cure.
Microbiology: Related to bacterial and viral infections
Neurology: Related to the disorders of the brain, spinal cord, or general nervous system
Referred pain: Pain felt in an area different from the actual source.
Remission: Signs of the disease disappear temporarily or permanently.
Stimulus: Triggers a physical and/or behavioral change.
Subcutaneous: Either injected or naturally existing under the skin.
Syndrome: A set of symptoms that indicate a certain condition, disease, or abnormality.
Urology: Related to problems with the urinary tract or the reproductive system (in men)
If you’re unfamiliar with some of these words, consider researching their roots with some extra help. You can also learn to say some tongue-twisting medical terms like a true professional. Additionally, check some useful tools and resources for medical terminology you can start applying in your studies now.