Medical Terminology Basics

Medical Terminology Basics
Medical Terminology Basics (Image: Medical Terminology Basics Book (

Medical terminology refers to the words or language used by various types of professionals in the healthcare field. The extent to which a person needs to be proficient in medical terminology tends to vary according to the position held; that being said, becoming familiar with the basics can give you a general understanding and make you able to interpret things like patient records, discharge papers, documented procedures, and other health data.


Medical terminology generally consists of words and terms derived from the Greek and Latin language. Although it may seem (and probably is) completely foreign at first, there are a couple of ground rules that the terms follow. Understanding how medical terminology is formed and being able to identify the major parts of the terms serve as the groundwork of the medical language.


There are four fundamental elements that a medical word or term consists of. The first is the word root, which is typically found in the middle of the word and indicates its essential meaning. The next is the combining form; which is the root of the word in addition to a vowel. The prefix, which is located at the beginning of the word, is used to distinguish a component of the word and further identify its central meaning. It's meant to depict additional information relating to things like where a body part of the body is located. Finally, the suffix is located at the end of the term and is used to fine-tune the primary meaning and acts as an inflectional ending; denoting specific features, such as the circumstances surrounding a condition, the progression of an ailment and the course of action to be taken.


Within medical terminology, adjectives materialize in compounds and are linked to the nouns, verbs or combining forms. It sounds hard, but seeing an example on paper can help you understand the concepts. Take the root words acr (extremity), cardio (heart) and gastr (stomach), which many people are familiar with. By adding the combining for, which is "o" we now have acro/o, cardi/o and gastr/o. If we add myo (muscle) as a prefix to cardio and itis (inflammation) we have myocarditis. Therefore, the medical term myocarditis translates into a muscle layer of the heart which is inflamed. By keeping the root word cardio and adding only a suffix change, such as ologist (a physician) we have a completely new word, cardiologist; a physician/doctor that specializes in the heart.


Once you can recognize the root word, the term tends to be easier to identify. Since root words have such an important function in medical terminology, familiarizing and memorizing different ones is a great first step. The sites and are great resources, as they offer a comprehensive list. Other sites such as and provide information regarding the medical roots, prefixes, and suffixes.


It's important to note that the medical terms most frequently used, can vary according to the specific area or practice they involve. For example, the medical terminology used by a psychiatrist or psychologist, would differ than that used by an oncologist or hematologist. If there is a specific area of practice you're looking to become acquainted with, it's wise to start with those terms in which are most frequently employed in that arena. Learning medical terminology is the same as learning any other language; it takes time, practice and a lot of studying to become proficient in it.

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