The Hippocratic oath that doctors take before beginning their practices dates back to ancient Greece. Like the Hippocratic oath, many medical terms are drawn from Greek, as well as Latin. Understanding a bit of how Greek and Latin words are constructed, along with using other medical references, can make the process of learning and understanding medical terminology somewhat easier.
Memorizing Root Words
The root words of many medical terms refer to a particular part of the body or a body function. For example, common root words include "chol," meaning bile or gall, and "cyst," which means bladder, according to MTWorld. By memorizing root words and their meaning, medical students and medical transcriptionists are able to decipher terms that appear to be very complex on the surface.
Deciphering Prefixes and Suffixes
Understanding prefixes and suffixes also makes it easier to learn medical terminology. Prefixes and suffixes are attached to root words, and often refer to a medical procedure performed on the part of the body described by the root word. For instance, "-ectomy" refers to surgical removal, according to MTWorld. Therefore, a tonsillectomy refers to surgical removal of the tonsils. A medical term may have a prefix, a suffix or both, along with a root word. However, unlike root words, prefixes and suffixes never stand alone in medical terminology.
Using Gray's Anatomy
Understanding human anatomy is essential to understanding medical terminology. Physicians Henry Gray and H.V. Carter created a meticulously detailed, richly illustrated text in 1858 for their surgical colleagues which detailed the anatomical features of the human body. Now known as Gray's Anatomy, this text is regularly updated to reflect modern medical advances. Medical professionals and lay people alike use Gray's Anatomy to gain a greater understanding of medical terminology and how it relates to the human body.
Distinguishing Signs and Symptoms
Physicians distinguish between "signs" and "symptoms" in diagnosing and treating their patients. In medical terminology, signs are observations made by a medical professional that can aid in determining what might be wrong with a patient. Rapid weight loss without deliberate dieting is a common example. On the other hand, the word symptoms is used to describe what patients report to doctors in describing their complaints. Insomnia is an example of a symptom that a patient would report to a doctor.