What Is Medical Terminology? (With Examples and Definitions)

Updated June 30, 2023

Professionals can expect to use medical terminology when working in careers related to the diagnosis and care of conditions in the human body. These terms reflect different medical conditions and processes within the human body. Understanding and knowing how to use medical terminology correctly allows you to communicate clearly with patients and other healthcare practitioners. In this article, we discuss the definition and importance of medical terminology and explore several medical terms.

What is medical terminology and why is it important?

Medical terminology refers to language which describes and identifies the processes of the human body. This can include medical procedures, illnesses, and medications. Understanding medical terms is important because it can help you communicate with other professionals and team members. These terms also help you learn more about your patients' medical conditions and allows you to educate them about potential conditions. Here's a description of the different components of medical terms:

  • Prefix: The prefix occurs at the beginning of medical terms, and it refers to a subdivision of the central meaning of the word.

  • Root wood: A root word is in the middle of the medical term, and it identifies the central meaning of the term.

  • Suffix: A suffix is at the end of the medical term, and it modifies the central meaning of the word based on what or who is interacting with the body part or what's happening to it.

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61 medical terms to learn

Here's a list of 61 medical terms you can learn to communicate more effectively in the workplace:

17 medical abbreviations and acronyms

Here's a list of essential medical abbreviations and acronyms that you can benefit from understanding:

  1. BMI: The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of a person's body fat based on their height and weight.

  2. BP: Blood pressure (BP) measures the pressure of circulating blood vessels' walls.

  3. CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), otherwise called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, is a life-saving technique to restart a heart that stops beating.

  4. DNR: Do not resuscitate (DNR) refers to a medical order to not perform CPR or other life-saving techniques.

  5. ED/ER: Emergency department (ED) or emergency room (ER) refers to a common unit for medical care.

  6. EKG: An electrocardiogram (EKG) monitors the heart of patients and helps identify potential issues with a patient's heart rhythm and blocked arteries.

  7. HR: Heart rate (HR) refers to the speed of a heartbeat, and physicians typically record them as beats per minute.

  8. HDL-C: High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) refers to healthy cholesterol levels within patients.

  9. LDL-C: Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) refers to a patient's unhealthy or bad cholesterol levels.

  10. NICU: This refers to the neonatal intensive care unit, which provides specialist care for infants born early.

  11. OD: Once daily (OD) relates to medication instructions to take a medication once a day.

  12. OR: This refers to the operating room and is the location where surgeons and medical professionals perform procedures.

  13. Psych: This refers to the psychiatric ward or the general psychiatry unit, which is a unit dedicated to diagnosing, treating, and preventing medical disorders.

  14. PRN: Pro re nata (PRN) is a Latin term used to describe the medical required for patients.

  15. PT: Physical therapy (PT) is a treatment method that helps patients recover from an injury or treatment that uses movement. Patients who require physical therapy typically complete rehabilitation with physical therapists.

  16. Rx: You can expect to see this term for medication prescriptions. Rx can also refer to recommended treatments.

  17. Stat: A medical professional may use this term when they require something immediately. For example, if they want blood tests completed for patients quickly, they can use this term.

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19 common medical terms

Here's a list of common medical terms that you can benefit from understanding:

  1. Abrasion: This refers to an injury that typically doesn't require procedures or operations. For example, a patient who cuts themselves can have an abrasion.

  2. Abscess: An abscess refers to a collection of fluid, and typically occurs because of a bacterial infection. These can develop anywhere on the body in either the form of skin or internal abscesses.

  3. Acute: This is a condition that is severe, and to which you can provide immediate solutions. Patients with acute conditions typically experience intense pain or discomfort.

  4. Benign: This refers to a condition, like a tumor, that isn't harmful.

  5. Biopsy: Medical professionals can conduct a biopsy, which is a sample of small tissue, to test the collected cells. This helps them analyse the abnormal cells to learn more about their cause and how they may impact the body.

  6. Chronic: Professionals can use this term for conditions that recur persistently. These conditions can produce significant discomfort and can be severe.

  7. Contusion: A contusion, also called a bruise, is blood under the skin caused by trauma. This occurs because blood capillaries rupture when they experience significant impact.

  8. Edema: An edema refers to puffiness or swelling caused by excess fluid that builds within the tissues of the patient.

  9. Epidermis: This term refers to the outer layer of skin, which protects the body and helps maintain hydration.

  10. Fracture: Patients can experience a fracture when they experience physical trauma. This results from a broken bone or damaged cartilage.

  11. Hypertension: Hypertension, or HBP, refers to high blood pressure. This occurs from long-term force of the body's blood against the walls of arteries.

  12. Hypotension: Hypotension refers to low blood pressure.

  13. Outpatient: An outpatient is a patient who receives care without requiring consistent observation. Outpatients typically don't require admittance to hospitals, and they can leave after receiving treatment.

  14. Tumour: A tumour refers to a mass of abnormal cells, which result in lumps and growths within the body. These can develop differently depending on whether they're cancerous.

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9 medical prefixes and suffixes

Here's a list of common prefixes and suffixes that you can benefit from understanding:

  1. A- or an-: The prefixes a- or an- can indicate that the speaker misses a component from the root word. You can typically view the prefix a- before consonants and an- before vowels.

  2. Dys-: The prefix dys- may refer to a condition that is painful, difficult, or abnormal.

  3. -ectomy: The suffix -ectomy refers to the surgical removal of a body part.

  4. -emia: The suffix -emia refers to conditions related to blood.

  5. -eursym: The suffix -eurysm refers to a physical trait or component that widens or expands.

  6. Hyper-: The prefix hyper- requires an understanding of a patient's baseline to determine whether their health is above normal or excessive.

  7. Hyp/o-: The prefixes hyp- or hypo- refer to conditions that are below, beneath, or deficient compared to the baseline.

  8. -scopy: The suffix -scopy refers to an examination.

  9. -tomy: The suffix -tomy refers to making an incision or cutting into something.

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16 medical root words

Here are some common medical root words you may encounter:

  1. Carcin/o: Carcin or carcino refer to health concerns related to cancer. For example, patients who have more carcinogens within their homes can experience an increased risk of cancers.

  2. Cardi/o: Cardi or cardio refer to health concerns related to the heart. For example, a patient who requires heart surgery can experience complications in their cardiac health.

  3. Cyto: Cyto refers to health concerns pertaining to the cells.

  4. Derm/a/o: Derm, dermac and dermo refer to health concerns associated with the skin.

  5. Encephal/o: Encelphalc or encephalo refer to health concerns pertaining to the brain.

  6. My/o: My or myo refer to health concerns related to muscles.

  7. Gastr/o: Gastr or gastro refer to health concerns associated with the abdomen and stomach.

  8. Histio: Histio refers to health concerns related to tissues.

  9. Hemat/o: Hemat or hemato refer to health concerns pertaining to blood.

  10. Hepati: Hepati refers to health concerns associated with the liver.

  11. Nephro: Nephro refers to health concerns related to the kidney.

  12. Neuro: Neuro refers to health concerns pertaining to nerves.

  13. Onco: Onco refers to health concerns related to tumours and masses.

  14. Oste/o: Oste or osteo refer to health concerns related to bones.

  15. Pulmon/o: Pulmon or pulmono refer to health concerns related to lungs.

  16. Stasis: Stasis refers to the flow of a bodily fluid slowing or stopping entirely.

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