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General Common Medical Terminology and Pronunciation

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The proper pronunciation and recognition of common medical terminology by patients improves communication in health care.

The value of knowing common medical terminologycommon medical terminology

Knowledge of many of the common medical terminology words can serve as a springboard of motivation to increase your knowledge of issues relating to your health and health care. As such it improves the understanding of graphical or spoken information. Gaps in understanding of just a few basic words are often the difference between poor, good and outstanding health literacy.

Medical terminology pronunciation

Proper medical terminology pronunciation by patients improves the accuracy and usefulness of information they present to doctors and other healthcare providers.  Recognition of the words spoken increases the understanding of the concepts they convey as patients hear them.

General common medical terminology


Acquired – Is a descriptor referring to a disease’s development at some point after birth. The antonym of it is congenital.  

Acute – Abrupt in onset, in reference to a disease; of short duration, rapidly progressive, and requiring urgent care. 

Acute event – is a medical condition or state that is severe, short in duration, and usually of abrupt onset.  Heart attack and stroke are examples.    

Anomaly – Is a marked deviation from the normal or standard. It often refers to an abnormal body part, function, etc. present from the time of birth. – Anomalous adj 

Aplasia – Is lack of development of an organ or tissue, often from birth. – Aplastic adj.

Asymptomatic – Not associated with symptoms of illness. 

Acidemia – It is a state of increased acidity and low pH of blood resulting from acidosis.

Acidity – It is increased acid content.

Acidosis –It is both the process and the state of increased acid content and depletion of alkali from blood and other body fluids. 

Adipose– Indicative of fat.

Adiposity– It means the buildup of fat in the body. 

Alkali – They are any of the base substances that neutralize acids as they form salts.  

Alkalemia – It is a state of increased alkalinity and pH of blood resulting from alkalosis.  

Alkalinity – It is the state of being alkaline.

Alkalosis – It is the process and state of excess loss of H+ or accumulation of excess base in body fluids.

Antibiotic – It is a drug that kills bacteria or slows their growth. 

Anatomy – It is the form and structure of an organism or one of its parts.  – Anatomical adj  

Anterior– It is a term which means situated toward the front. – Anteriorly adv.

Antimicrobial–It is a drug used to treat microbial infection.  It is a general term that can mean an antibiotic, antifungal, antiprotozoal or antiviral. 

Atom – It is the smallest part of any substance that cannot be broken up by chemical means.  Atoms have a nucleus, protons, neutrons and electrons that orbit the nucleus.  – Atomic Adj.

Autopsy – The examination of a body after death. It includes dissection (sectioning by cutting) of the internal organs. Its purpose is usually to determine the cause of death.  It means the same as postmortem examination. 

Benign – It is a descriptor term for tumors which means not malignant or likely to cause serious health problems or death.

Bilateral – It is an adjective meaning on both sides. 

Biopsy – Is the acquisition of tissue from a living person for the purpose of making a diagnosis. The method by which it is performed depends on the circumstances and the organ of concern.  The main methods are:

  • Tissue removal during surgery
  • Removal of tissue during a procedure to inspect a lumen
  • Removal of tissue trough a needle placed in the tissue through the skin  

Body mass index (BMI) – It is a term which categorizes one’s weight based on height.  It is the weight in kilograms divided by the height in meters squared. 

Cancer – It is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the human body and their ability to migrate to other sites and cause death.

Carcinoma – It is a medical term for cancer. More specifically, it is cancer which originates in epithelial cells of a structure of organ.  

Carcinogen – A substance or agent that can cause cancer. 

Carcinogenic – Having the tendency to cause cancer.  

Catheter – Is a flexible hollow tube for insertion into a body cavity or lumen.  Its purpose is to perform a study of, or allow fluids to pass into or out of the structure in which it lodges. 

Catheterization – Is the placement of a catheter in a body structure.    
Cell – It is the fundamental structural unit of all life.  It consists of an outer membrane, a nucleus with genetic material (DNA), living matter responsible for its function(s) enclosed by the membrane (cytoplasm) and a variety of molecules and fluid.  – Cellular Adj.  
Cell differentiation – It is the process and the end result of the process whereby a cell which is less specialized matures to possess a more distinct and specific form and function. 

Chills – A sensation of feeling cold with associated shivering. 

Chronic – Of long duration, in reference to a disease; slow in developing or progressing.  

Clinical – Of or relating to insight into a disease gleaned from symptoms and physical signs and the course of the disease as opposed to testing. – Clinically – adv. 

Clinician – A doctor or other healthcare professional who works directly with patients, in contrast to one involved in research.  

Collagen – The major protein of the white fibers of bone, tendons, cartilage, skin and other connective tissue. It comprises over half the protein in mammals. 

Comorbidity – It is a disease or condition that coexists with a primary disease but is a separate disease in its own right.   

Complication – Is an event(s) or disease (s) that occurs at the same time or in close proximity with another disease. It is not an essential part of the initial disease, but may result from it or the treatment of it. Heart failure complicating a heart attack is an example.  The onset of kidney failure following the receipt of a drug to treat cancer is another.  The event could also be an injury such as a fracture from a fall caused by a disease of the nervous system such as MS. – Complicated adj. – The hospital course was complicated by pneumonia following surgery – example

Congenital – Is a descriptor meaning present at birth. When used in reference to disease it means the opposite of acquired. 

Connective tissue – It is the supporting tissue of various structures of the body. Cartilage, bone and fat are some examples. In main organs such as the lungs, liver and kidneys it is so named interstitial tissue. 

Contralateral – It is an adjective which means on the opposite side. 

Corporal – It means pertaining to the body. 

CytoplasmCytoplasmic adj. – It is the contents of a cell inside of the outer membrane but exclusive of the nucleus.  

Degeneration – Is a change in a cell or tissue to a less functionally active form. It is usually the result of aging and/or disease. It is sometimes the earliest sign of tissue or cell destruction. – Degenerate – v. – Degenerative – adj.   

Diagnosis – Is a term denoting the nature and circumstances of a disease based on a patient’s signs and symptoms, the course of the disease and/or or tests. It is also the process of reaching such a conclusion. – Diagnoses pl. – Diagnostic adj.     

Dilation (Dilatation) – Is the state or the act of increase in the circumference of a structure with a lumen or cavity. – Dilate – v. – Dilated – adj.  

Disease modifying drug – It is a treatment agent that can modify or change the course of a disease. That change might be a reduced number of attacks, decreased severity of attacks or a halting or slowing of the overall progression of the disease.

Dissociation – The separation of a molecule or atom into ions. It is also the decomposition of a complex substance into a simpler one. 

Distal– It is a term which means situated away from the center of the body or from the point of origin of a structure. It applies specifically to a limb or tubular part of the body.    

Distended – Increased in size; swollen; dilated; stretched. – Distend – v. – Distention – n.  

Diurnal – It means occurring during the day. 

Dorsal – It is a term meaning on, toward, or near the back or the upper surface of an organism, organ, or structural part of an organism.  The term dorsal root ganglion is an example.  – Dorsum n.  

Dysfunction – Is abnormal function of a body system, organ, or other body part. – Dysfunctional adj.

Dysplasia – Is an abnormal development of cells, tissues or organs. – Dysplastic adj.  

Edema – Is the excessive accumulation of fluid within tissues. It results in swelling. – Edematous –adj. 

Equilibrium – It is a state of balance between one or more opposing forces or processes. 

Element – It is a simple substance that cannot be broken down into smaller parts by chemical means.  It is composed of atoms of the same type.  Sodium, calcium and oxygen are examples.  For example, the smallest single piece of a gold nugget is a gold element. 

Endothelium – It is the layer of epithelial cells that line the cavity of the heart and the lumen of blood vessels, lymph vessels, and other cavities of the body. – Endothelial adj.   

Enzyme – Is a protein which changes a chemical reaction. It usually catalyzes or increases the rate or speed of a reaction. – Enzymatic adj. 

Epidemiology – It is a branch of medicine that deals with the study of the causes, distribution, and control of diseases in populations. 

Epithelium – It is the covering or layer of tissue of external and internal surfaces of the body. It applies to structures such as the skin, lining of blood vessels, lumens of other structures, the surface of glands, and membranes lining the abdominal and chest cavities. – Epithelial adj. 

Evidence-based medicine – It is the prudent use of the best current available data derived from scientific research in making decisions about the care of patients.  Its intention is to integrate clinical expertise with research evidence and patient values.  

Extension – The movement resulting in an increase in the distance between two surfaces with a joint in between.  It particularly, but not only, applies to bones; a straightening movement between two surfaces. 

Extracellular – It is an adjective meaning exterior to or outside of a cell. 

Extracellular fluid – It is that portion of the body’s total fluid comprised of the interstitial fluid and blood plasma.  It constitutes approximately 20% of a human adult’s weight. 

Fatal – It means resulting in death. 

Fatigability – It is the tendency to quickly and easily become tired from exertion.  

Fatigue – It is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. 

Febrile – Causing or having a fever.  

Fever – It is a body temperature above the normal of 98.6°F.   

Fibrosis – It is the formation of excessive fibrous tissue in an organ. It is a form of scarring which can result from a reparative or disease process. Common sites for it are the lungs and liver. It can also form in other areas of the body. Fibrotic – adj. 

Fibrous tissue – It is dense connective tissue in rows in various parts of the body composed of bundles of white fibers. It has very few living cells. 

Flexion – The movement of two surfaces with joints – particularly bones – closer together as a result of muscle contraction and the resulting force it exerts through a tendon(s); a bending movement between two surfaces.  

Heterogeneous – Composed of parts or elements or consisting of properties which are not all similar.  
Heterogeneity – n.

History (Medical history) – Is a record or narrative of current and distant past circumstances, events, and conditions that are, or might be, relevant to a patient’s current state of health.  It includes past diseases, symptoms, surgeries, injuries, past treatments, and current medications.  Family history, allergies and lifestyle data are also a part of the history.  Doctors and other healthcare workers gather most of the information from direct questioning of a patient.  But some of the information might be from a review of old records if they are available. 

The family history is a part of the medical history which contains information gleaned from questions about past or current diseases in relatives.  It applies to both living and deceased family members.  It is most important with respect to diseases that the patient may have or be vulnerable to, that are hereditary or that run in families.  

Homeostasis – It is the state of equilibrium in the body with respect to various functions and the chemical composition of fluids and tissues.  It is also the process of maintaining that state. 

Homogeneous – Uniform throughout in terms of composition or structure.
Homogeneity – n.

Hyperplasia – It is an abnormal increase in the number of normal cells with normal arrangement in a tissue.  

Hypertrophy – It is the enlargement of an organ or part of it due to an increase in the size of the cells that comprise it.

Iatrogenic – Caused by the treatment or other actions of a physician.  It most often refers to a disease or other complication which results from a form of treatment.  

Incidence – The frequency of the occurrence of a disease or condition. 

Index of suspicionIndex of suspicion – Is a term that doctors use in their communications with each other to reflect how seriously they believe a patient has or might have a given condition or disease. In other words, it is a biased gauge of how strongly a doctor suspects that a patient might have a particular condition or disease. The higher the index, the greater is the belief. The converse is also true, the lower it is.  It tends to influence tests that a doctor orders in an attempt to make a diagnosis. 

Infarct – It is an area of dead tissue resulting from insufficient blood flow.

Infarction – It is the formation of an infarct.  

Inferior – It is a term which means situated below or directed downward.  When used in reference to anatomy it refers to the lower surface of a structure or to the lower of 2 or more structures. 

Internal medicineIt is the medical specialty which deals, for the most part, with the diagnosis and medical treatment of diseases and disorders of the internal structures of adults.

Internist – Is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and medical as opposed to surgical and obstetrical treatment of disease in adults. 

Interstitial fluid – It is the fluid in the spaces between cells of various tissues of the body.

Intercellular fluid is another term for it.  It is comprised mostly of water and makes up approximately 16% of adult humans’ total body weight. 

Interstitial tissue – It is the connective tissue or supporting tissue in between the main cellular elements of an organ or structure.  

Interstitium – It is the space in between the cells of tissue.  

Intracellular – It is an adjective meaning within or inside of a cell. 

Intracellular fluid – It is that portion of the body’s total water and dissolved contents which are contained inside the cell membranes. 

Ipsilateral – Meaning on the same side.

Ion – It is an atom or molecule which is negatively or positively charged as a result of gaining or losing one or more electrons.  

Ionize – To separate into ions.  

Ionization – It is the dissociation of a molecule or atom into ions.  

Lateral – It is a term which means situated away from the midline or toward the side of the body or a structure.  

Lesion – It is a change in the structure or function of tissues as a result of disease or injury. 

Lumen – It is the space or passageway within a tubular organ or structure, through which contents pass. Examples are blood vessels, airways, and the intestine. – Luminal Adj. 

Malaise – It is a vague bodily feeling which might include general discomfort, uneasiness, an out of sorts feeling and/or fatigue.  It is oftentimes the first symptom of infection or other disease. 

Malignancy – It is a synonym for cancer.  

Malignant– It is a descriptor term for cells. It refers to them having properties of loss of differentiation and orientation to one another and their ability to locally invade or distantly spread to other tissues.  The term is most commonly used in reference to tumors.  

Medial – It means situated toward the midline of the body or a structure. 

Mediator – A cell or substance which a cell produces that regulates or evokes processes or functions in the body. – Mediate – v. 

Metastasis – It is the distant spread of disease from one organ or part of the body to another, often through the blood stream or lymph vessels.  The term is most commonly used in reference to cancer.

Metastasize– Means to spread from one site in the body to another.  The term is used primarily in reference to tumor cells.

Metastatic – It is a term referring to the fact that a cancer has spread.  Metastatic lung cancer is an example.

Microbe – It is a microscopic organism such as a bacterium, virus, fungus or parasite.  – Microbial Adj.

Molecule – It is the smallest part of a chemical compound that has the chemical properties of that compound.  It is composed of atoms held together by chemical bonds.  The bonds form as a result of the sharing or exchange of electrons between the atoms.  Atoms may be of the same or different elements.  Oxygen (O2) is an example of the former.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an example of the latter.  – Molecular adj.

Morbidity Morbid adj. – It is a diseased condition or state.  It also refers to the incidence or prevalence of a disease or all diseases in a population.  It is sometimes used as an outcome measure. 

Mortality – It is the death rate associated with a disease or condition.

Neoplasm – It is a term synonymous with tumor.  Neoplasms can be benign or malignant. – Neoplastic adj.

Nocturnal – It means pertaining to nighttime rather than during the day. 

Obese – It is a term meaning grossly overweight or excessively fat.  

Obesity– It is a state of being obese.  It is more specifically defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.

Obstruction – The blockage of a lumen of the body.  

Organ – It is the structural unit of an organism that performs a specific function or functions.  It differs from tissues in that it is more complex and is usually composed of different types of tissues working in harmony.  The brain and heart are examples.

Organism – It is any individual living form of life, whether animal, plant, or microbe.  

Overweight – It is a BMI between 25 and 29.  

Parenchyma – It is the functional elements of an organ in contrast to the framework or supporting ones.  

Patent – Open; said of the lumen of a structure – adj.  Patency – n.  

Pathogen – It is any microbe or agent that causes disease.   

Pathogenesis – The events, reactions and other processes which occur in the cells, tissues and structures of the body as a disease develops.  

Pathology– It is the functional and structural expressions of disease.  – Pathological adj. 

Pathophysiology – It is the functional changes which occur within the body when disease or injury disturbs its normal function.    

Periphery – It is a location away from our outside of a main or central reference point. That reference point in the body is usually a system or organ. – Peripheral adj. 

pH – It is the symbol which relates to the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in a solution compared to a standard solution – one containing 1 mole per liter or 6.025 x 1023 H+ per liter.  Since compounds that dissociate to yield H+ are acids, pH reflects the acidity of a solution.  Since bases neutralize acids and are inversely proportional to H+ concentration, pH is also indicative of the alkalinity of a solution.  In the health care field blood and other body fluids are the solutions for which pH measurements are important. Since pH is the negative logarithm of the reciprocal of the H+ concentration, the lower the pH the greater is the concentration.  A pH of 7 is neutral.  A pH less than 7 is acid.  A pH greater than 7 is alkaline.        

Physical examination – Is the assessment of the structure and function of the body by means of palpation (feeling with the hands), percussion (tapping with the fingers), auscultation (listening) and visual inspection.  Facets of the examination might include the use of some simple bedside instruments.  Some of the more commonly used ones are a pen light for looking at the pupils and inside of the mouth; a stethoscope for listening to the heart and lungs; a sphygmomanometer to check the blood pressure; a watch or clock with a second hand to record the pulse rate; a thermometer for checking the temperature; a tuning fork to check hearing and the ability to sense vibration; and a rubber hammer for checking deep tendon reflexes   

Physiology – Is the normal vital processes and functions within organisms in part or as a whole. It applies to plants, animals and humans.  – Physiologic adj.

Posterior – It is a term which means situated toward the back of the body or a structure. – Posteriorly adv.

Postmortem (Post-mortem) – Occurring or pertaining to the period of time after death; after death. 

Prevalence – It is the number of cases of a particular disease or condition in a given population at a specified time.  Prevalent adj.     

Prognosis – A forecast of the probable course and/or outcome of a disease or other adverse state of health. – Prognostic adj.     

Proliferation – It is the reproductive increase in the number of cells that are similar.  – Proliferate v. Proliferative adj.  

Proximal – It is the term meaning nearest to the point of origin.  For example the term proximal leg means the portion closest to the knee.  

Psychosomatic – It means of or pertaining to a physical disorder with an underlying emotional cause or influence. 

Receptor – It is a molecular structure within the cell or on the surface, which binds specifically with a chemical(s) or senses a condition(s) which it responds to.  The response has physiologic effects.  

Relapse – Is the return of signs and/or symptoms of the disease after a period of remission. – Relapsing adj.  

Remission – is the total or partial disappearance of the signs and/or symptoms of a disease. It can be temporary or permanent. – Remitting adj.   

Reversible – Is a descriptor that refers to the capability of something reversing or being reversed.  In a medical sense, the object of the adjective is a disease from which recovery is likely.  The term can also apply to a chemical reaction in the body. – Reversibility n. – Irreversible – atm.  

Risk factor – Is something that increases the likelihood of a specified disease or medical event in a person.  It might be a trait, medical condition, or behavior such as smoking or alcohol ingestion to name a few.

Sarcoma – It is a tumor, usually highly malignant, which has its origin in connective tissue

Screening – The precautionary testing for a disease based on a higher than normal risk of developing it, despite the absence of signs or symptoms. – Screen – v.

Sensitivity – The likelihood that at test will identify a given disease in a person.  – Sensitive – adj.  

Sign – Any abnormality detectable on examination of a patient which is indicative of a disease or disease process. In contrast to a symptom, a sign is objective rather than subjective.      

Somatic – It means pertaining to the trunk, the wall of the body cavity, or the body in general.  It contrasts with the term visceral.     

Specificity – The likelihood that a test will correctly identify a disease in a person.  It allows for the fact that other diseases or circumstances can cause the test to be positive. – Specific adj. 

Stroma – It is the connective tissue which forms the framework of an organ, gland or other structure. It contrasts with the tissues performing the special function of the organ or structure. – Stromal adj. 

Superior – It is a term which means situated above or directed upward.  When used in reference to anatomy it means nearer the top of the head.  

Supine – It is an adjective meaning lying on the back with the face up. 

Symptom – Any abnormal sensation experienced by a person which is suggestive of an illness. In contrast to a sign, a symptom is subjective rather than objective. 

Symptomatic – Associated with symptoms of illness.   

Syndrome – A group of signs and symptoms resulting from a single cause and which characterize a particular disease or state.

Tissue – It is a group of harmonious cells that perform a specialized function.  Skin is one example.

Tumor – It is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of tissues cells which serves no physiologic function.  The term is synonymous with neoplasm.  Tumors can be benign or malignant.  

Unilateral – It is a term which means on one side.  

Ventral – It is a term which means situated on or nearer the undersurface of the body, which in the case in humans is the belly.  

Viscera –The internal organs within the abdominal or thoracic cavities of the body.  Visceral adj.

Workup – Is the overall proceedings related to a patient, the purpose of which is to make a diagnosis. It includes the taking of a history, the physical examination, laboratory tests, x-rays, etc.
































































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