Healthcare 101: Medical Terminology for Beginners

April 13, 2016

 

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. 

 Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash 

 

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: 

BRONCH
airways
Bronchitis = inflammation of the airways
CARCIN/O
cancer
carcinogenic = cancer causing
CARDI/O
heart
pericarditis = heart inflammation
CYTO-
cell
cytotoxic = toxic to the cell
DERMA-
skin
dermatitis = inflammation of the skin
GASTRO
stomach/abdomen
Gastroenteritis = inflammation of the stomach and intestines
GYNE/O
female
Gynecology = branch of medicine related to the female reproductive system
HISTIO-
tissue
histology = study of tissue
HEPATI-
liver
hepatoblastoma = liver cancer
MALIGN-
bad / harmful
malignant = growing, spreading
NEPHRO-
kidney
nephrotoxic = harmful to the kidneys
NEURO-
nerves
neuroblast = an immature nerve cell
ONCO-
mass / tumor
oncology = the study of cancer
OSTEO-
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

Ab-
Away from
Ad-
Toward
Acro-
Top; extremities
Acu-
Sharp; severe
Ante-
Before; forward
Anti-, Anter-
Opposing; against
Bi-
Two; double
Brachio-
Arm
Chemo-
Chemical
Co-, con-, com-
Together; with
Cranio
Skull
Cyto-
Related to cells
De-
Down; from
Di-
Twice; two
Dia-
Throughout
Ecto-
Outside
Encephal/o
Brain
Estro-
Female
Epi-
Upon
Extra-, Extro-
Beyond; outside of
Hemi-
Half; half of
Hemat/o-
Blood
Hyper-
Above; excessive; beyond
Hyp-, Hypo-
Below; beneath; deficient
Inter-
Between
Intra-
Within; inside
Intro-
Into; within
Macro-
Large
Meso-
Middle
Micro-, Micr-
Tiny; small
Mono/Uni
One; single
Morto-
Death
My/o-
Muscle
Neur/o-
Nerve
Ocul/o-
Eye
Onco-
Tumor
Or-
Mouth
Post-
After; following; behind
Pre-, pro-
In front of; before
Pulmon-
Lungs
Retro-
Behind; backward
Secto-
To cut
Semi-
Half
Stetho-
Chest
Topo-
Place; position
Trans-
Through or across
Tri-
Three
Ultra-
Excessive; beyond

 

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:

-ary
Pertaining to
-ase
Enzyme
-ation
Process
-cele
Hernia
-clasis
To break
-constriction
Narrowing of
-dilation
To expand; stretch
-dynia
Pain; discomfort
-ectomy
Removal
-edema
Swelling; inflammation
-ema
Condition
-emia
Related to blood
-eurysm
Expanding; widening
-genesis
To form
-globin
Protein
-graphy
Recording of something
-ia
Condition
-icle
Small, possibly microscopic
-ism
Process or condition
-itis
Swelling; inflammation
-lysis
Breakdown; deterioration; separation
-mania
Obsession
-mortem
Death
-oma
Mass; tumor; cyst
-one
Hormone
-opsy
Display of
-ostosis
Condition of bone
-paresis
Weakness; failing
-partum
Birth
-pathy
Emotion or disease
-phasia
Speech
-phylaxis
Protection
-poiesis
Formation
-pnea
Breathing
-rrhea
Discharge
-rrhexis
Burst
-schisis
To split
-scopy
Examination
-somnia
Sleep
-spasm
Muscle contraction
-stasis
To control; stop
-stoma/-stomy
Create a new opening
-tomy
Process of cutting; making an incision
-tresia
Opening
-tropia
To turn
-tropin
To trigger
-type
Image, designation
-uria
Urine

 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.  

 Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels 

 

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.

The Best Tips for Learning Important Medical Words

 Photo by Lukas from Pexels 

 

Medicine clearly has its own language, and understanding medical terminology lays a great foundation for practicing in any allied healthcare field. 

Mastering this language is a complex task, but with the appropriate learning resources, valuable tricks, and dedication, there’s no reason why you can’t learn medical terminology quickly and effectively.

Use a Medical Dictionary to Look Up Medical Terms

Using an online medical dictionary is a fantastic way to enrich your understanding of meanings and use of medical terms. If a word is tripping you up, see where it’s derived from and how it’s pronounced. Is it used outside of the medical world? Can it be used as a verb or a noun? 

Make or Use Flashcards to Learn Medical Terms

Science has discovered that people remember more when they write things down, which makes creating flashcards a great technique. If you’re trying to remember a term with a visual clue, why not use that on one side? If you simply want to test your current knowledge, use learning sites like Quizlet. Either way, repetition is your best course of action. 

Play Medical Terminology Games

There are a variety of online medical terminology games that can help you memorize your vocabulary words. Multiple choice, memory, and matching games shake things up a bit when things start to feel a bit overwhelming.

Nowadays, there are plenty of Android and iPhone medical apps that are designed exclusively for future healthcare workers. 

Get Ahead in Your Future Allied Healthcare Career

Are you an allied healthcare student or considering a medical career? We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the medical terminology guides, classes, and books that will take your education to the next level.

Would you like to explore even more ways to make learning more enjoyable? Check out these medical YouTube channels and stay tuned to the latest news in the medical field.