Improve Your Vocabulary: Medical Jargon

Jargon is specialised vocabulary used in a particular field. It can be a barrier to understanding, though, if you're not a member of that particular group. In this article I explain some of the more commonly seen medical abbreviations and terminology.

Tip: If you are serious about improving your vocabulary, then Troy and I highly recommend you try the popular vocabulary program, Ultimate Vocabulary. Click Ultimate Vocabulary for further information.*

abduction — movement (of a limb) away from the body

a.c. (on scripts) — take before meals

acute — sudden, severe but of short duration

adduction — movement (of a limb) towards the body

adjuvant therapy — treatment given after initial cancer treatment, to stop secondary tumours

allogenic — donated tissue/blood coming from a donor (not self)

anaemia — low red blood cells/low haemoglobin

anaesthetic–anesthetic — drug that causes insensitivity to pain, and can also cause unconsciousness, used in surgery

analgesic — painkilling drug (but not as strong as anaesthetic)

aneurysm–aneurism — ballooning out of an artery due to weakening of the artery wall

anterior — nearer to the head or front of the body

antiemetic — medication that prevents vomiting

arrhythmia — irregular heart beats

artery — blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body

arthritis — pain and inflammation of the joints

aseptic — free from contamination by bacteria or other microorganisms

aspiration — removal of fluid with a needle

asystole — lack of heartbeat and any electrical activity in the heart

autologous — donated tissue or blood coming from one's self

basal — forming a base; a constant low-level supply of insulin for type 1 diabetics

benign — harmless, not malignant

b.i.d. (on scripts) — take twice a day

bilateral — affecting both sides of the body

biopsy — examination of excised tissue sample to aid in diagnosis

bolus — single large dose of medicine; a dose of insulin injected by type 1 diabetics just before eating a meal

BP — blood pressure

bradycardic — a slowing of the heartrate to under 50 beats per minute

cannula — a slender tube that can be inserted into a body cavity or duct

catheter — thin, flexible tube

CBC — complete blood count, also FBC (full blood count)

chronic — long lasting or constantly recurring

contusion — bruise

CVA — abbreviation for cerebrovascular accident, ie stroke

cyanotic — having blueish skin from lack of oxygen

debridement — removal of damaged tissue and foreign objects from a wound

dialysis — purification of blood through a membrane, replacing the action of kidneys

diastolic — pressure during the relaxing of the heart

diplopia — double vision

diuresis — increased urine production

diuretic — medication or substance that increases urine production

DNR — do not resuscitate

double-blind trial — scientific method where certain information is withheld from the subject and tester to ensure impartial test results. Often used in testing medication.

DVT — deep vein thrombosis

dysplasia — abnormal in form

dyspnoea–dyspnea — shortness of breath

embolism — blockage of blood vessel by foreign object (eg blood clot, clump of bacteria, illicit drugs)

embolus — something that travels through a blood vessel and blocks it (eg blood clot, air bubble)

epidermis — outer layer of skin

epidural anaesthetic — anaesthetic injected into the spinal cord, numbing the lower abdomen, pelvis and legs

epistaxis — nose bleed (severe)

excise — cut out surgically

fibrillation — uncoordinated twitching of heart muscle fibres

gastric lavage — washing out of the stomach to remove drugs or poisons

gamete — mature sex cell, ie an egg or sperm

granuloma — localized lumpy inflammation found in tissues

haematoma–hematoma — solid large swelling of clotted blood, generally within an organ or muscle

halitosis — bad breath

hemiparesis — weakness or paralysis on one side of the body

haemorrhage–hemorrhage — abnormal and rapid loss of blood

hernia — protrusion of a tissue through the wall of the cavity in which it is normally contained

herniated — suffering a hernia

hyperglycemia — high blood sugar

hyperlipidemia — high fat levels in the blood

hypoglycemia — low blood sugar

hypotension — abnormally low blood pressure

hypothermia — low body temperature

hypoxia — subnormal levels of oxygen

iatrogenic — of or relating to an illness caused by medical examination or treatment

ICU — intensive care unit

idiopathic — of unknown cause

infarction — formation of an area of dead tissue due to complete lack of oxygen

intracerebral — within the brain

infusion — slow injection of a substance into a vein or tissue

intravenous — within a vein, administered into a vein

in vitro — in glass; happening outside the body, in a test tube, for example

in vivo — in a living organism (as opposed to in vitro)

ischaemia–ischemia — inadequate blood supply to an area

laparotomy — an operation to open the abdomen

lateral — at or towards the side, situated on one side of the body

leukocyte — white blood cell

lymph — colourless fluid containing white blood cells that bathes the body's tissues

malignant — very virulent or infectious, or cancerous, likely to recur after removal

metastasis — the process by which cancer spreads from where it first arose to distant locations in the body

morbid — of the nature of or indicative of disease

myocardial — muscular tissue of the heart

necrosis — death of living organs or tissues due to disease or injury

neuropathy — disease or dysfunction of peripheral nerves

npo — nothing by mouth (nil per os), or nbm (nil by mouth)

oedema–edema — excess of fluid collecting in the body

otitis media — an infection of the middle ear

palliative — relieving pain, alleviating symptoms without dealing with the underlying cause

palsy — partial paralysis of a localised area of the body

paresis — incomplete paralysis, muscular weakness

pathology — typical behaviour of a disease

pedal — relating to the foot

pericardium — the sac that envelops the heart

peripheral — near the surface of the body

placebo — a "sugar pill" or any dummy, non-therapeutic medication or treatment. Often used as a control when testing new medications.

plasma — liquid part of the blood and lymphatic fluid, which makes up about half of its volume

pleura — the lining around the lungs

posterior — further back, towards the back

pulmonary edema — fluid in the lungs

pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lungs

q.d. — take once a day

relapse — suffer deterioration after a period of improvement

remission — disappearance of signs and symptoms of a disease, either permanently or temporarily

sepsis — blood stream infection

septic — infected

sign — indication of a disease detectable by a doctor, even if not apparent to the patient

SOB — shortness of breath

speculum — instrument used to widen an opening to look within a passage or a cavity

stasis — stoppage or slowing of flow of blood (or other bodily fluid)

stat — immediately (from the Latin statinum)

subdural — below the dura (fibrous covering of the brain and spinal cord)

sublingual — under the tongue

symptom — physical or mental feature that is regarded as indicating a condition of disease, especially such a feature that is noticeable to the patient

synovitis — inflammation of synovial membrane

systolic — pressure during the contraction of the heart

tachycardia — an extremely rapid heart rate, usually signified by a pulse over 100 beats per minute

tenosynovitis — inflammation and swelling of a tendon

terminal — predicted to lead to death

thoracotomy — surgery on the thoracic (chest cavity)

t.i.d. (on scripts) — take three times a day

THR — total hip replacement

thrombosis — formation of a blood clot within a blood vessel

TKR — total knee replacement

toxicity — the degree to which a substance can harm living creatures

triage — the system of prioritizing patients in an emergency situation in which there are a great number of injured or ill, often used in emergency departments in hospitals

unilateral — affecting one side

URI — upper respiratory infection

ut dict — take as directed previously

UTI — urinary tract infection

vein — blood vessel that carries oxygen-deprived blood back to the heart

venipuncture — the drawing of blood from a vein

The following suffixes can help you to decipher what a medical term may mean, too.

-algia (or -dynia) — pain (Neuralgia, Coccydnyia)

-blast — early stage of a growth (Adenoblast)

-ectomy — surgical removal (Appendectomy)

-itis — inflammation (Hepatitis)

-lysis — freeing of (Adhesiolysis)

-oma — tumor (Carcinoma)

-oscopy — viewing (Laparoscopy)

-osis — process or condition (Tuberculosis)

-pathy — abnormality (Neuropathy)

-plasty — to rebuild or restore (Rhinoplasty)

-pnea — breathing (Dyspnea)

-rrhea — flow (Diarrhoea)

-scler(osis) — hardening (Multiple Sclerosis)

-uria — pertaining to urine (Aciduria)

If you want to learn these medical words off by heart, then you can easily add these words to a custom word list in the popular vocabulary-learning software, Ultimate Vocabulary.

*Troy and I recommend only products that we have tried and tested. These include Ultimate Vocabulary. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of Ultimate Vocabulary software because we are happy to endorse that software.


Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 10:11
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

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