Medical Terms and Health Literacy

Pathologist studying slides
Pathologist studying slides


A few years back, I worked as a medical secretary in a hospital. My office was in the laboratory, and I would take dictation from a Pathologist. These specialists study blood, fluid and tissue samples taken from patients in order to diagnose varying illnesses, including diseases and cancer. I also worked together with the histologists and cytologists who would prepare the slides for the Pathologists.

Pathology slides prepared by a histologist
Pathology slides prepared by a histologist

Starting with B or b

  • bi, bis - double, twice, two
  • brachy - short
  • brady - slow
  • bucc(o) - cheek

Starting with C or c

  • carcin(o) - cancer
  • cardi(o) - heart
  • cephal(o) - head
  • cerebr(o) - brain
  • cervic - neck
  • chol(e) - bile (gallbladder)
  • chondro(o) - cartilage
  • circum - around,about
  • contra - against, counter
  • corpor - body
  • cost(o) - rib
  • crani(o) - skull
  • cry(o) - cold
  • cut - skin
  • cyan(o) - blue
  • cyst(o) - bladder
  • cyt(o) - cell

I became quite good at spelling the medical terms which were on the patient reports. Understanding their meaning was quite different than knowing how to spell them.

I was able to pick up on a few of the medical terms, but the main thing I needed to know what how to spell the words to complete my job.

I have recently written two hubs about Health Literacy, and realize that one of the problems is that patients do not understand many of the medical terms that the doctors and nurses use when they go in for an appointment.

Medical terminology can seem like a foreign language, but by learning a few parts of the words, you and I can become better informed. Here is a list of some of the more frequently used prefixes (parts of words used at the beginning), roots (the basis for the word) and suffixes (parts of words used at the end of a word).


Starting with A or a

  • a (n) - means absence of
  • acou or acu - hear
  • aden (o) - gland
  • aer (o) - air
  • alg (pain)
  • andr(o) - man
  • angi(o) - vessel
  • ankyl(o) - crooked, curved
  • ante - before
  • anter(i) - front, forward
  • anti - against
  • arteri(o) - artery
  • arthr(o)- joint
  • articul - joint
  • ather (o) - fatty
  • audi(o) - hearing
  • aur(i) - ear
  • aut (o) - self

Starting with E or e

emia - blood

encephal(o) - brain

end(o) - inside

enter(o) - intestine

epi - outer,superficial, upon

erythr(o) - red

eu - normal

extra - outside


Starting with D

dactyl(o) - finger or toe

dent - tooth

derm (ato) - skin

dipl(o) - double

dors - back

dys - bad,faulty,abnormal


Starting with G or g

gastr(o) - stomach

gen - become, originate

gloss(o) - tongue

glyc(o) - sweet, glucose

gyn - woman

Starting with H or h

hem(ato) - blood

hemi - half

hepat(o) - liver

hist(o) - tissue

hydr(o) - water

hyper - high, excessive

hypo - low, deficient

hyster(o) - uterus

Starting with H or h

iatr(o) - doctor

infra - beneath

inter - among, between

intra - inside

itis - inflammation


Starting with S or s

scler(o) - hard

scope - instrument

scopy (examination

somati(o) - body

spondyl(o) - vertebra

steat(o) - fat

sten(o) - narrow, compressed

steth(o) - chest

stom - mouth, opening

supra - above

Starting with T or t

tachy - fast, quick

therap - treatment

therm(o) - heat

thorac(o) - chest

thromb(o) - clot, lump

tomy - operate by cutting

tox(i) - poison

Starting with U or u

uria - Urine

Starting with V or v

vas(o) - vessel

ven(o) - vein

vesic(o) - bladder

xer(o) - dry


Starting with L or l

lact(o) - milk

lapar(o) - flank, abdomen

latero - side

leuk(o) - white

lingu(o) - tongue

lip(o) - fat

lys(is) dissolve

Starting with M or m

mal - bad, abnormal

Starting with P or p

pole - make, produce

poly - much, many

post - after

poster(i) - back, behind

presby - elder

proct(o) - anus

pseudo(o) - false

psych(o) - mind

pulon(o) - lung

pyel(o) - pelvis of kidney

pyr(o) - fever, fire

Starting with R or r

rachi(o) - spine

rent(o) - kidneys

rhag - break,burst

rhe (flow

rhin(o) - nose



So how many did you recognize? How many have you heard before?  They mix these parts together to name conditions - like nephritis - nephr plus itis - which means inflammation of the kidneys. Another would be adeno plus carcinoma - which means cancer of the glands. Go ahead - you try it. Next time you go to the doctor, you will be better informed.

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Comments 6 comments

elayne001 profile image

elayne001 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks very much for your encouraging comments toknowinfo. I think it is valuable info for all of us.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Great hub! You write very well even on a hard to write subject like this. Thanks for sharing. Rated up and useful.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks LianaK. You know how important this topic is. I am sure you have seen it all first hand. Thanks for commenting.


LianaK profile image

LianaK 5 years ago

Such an important topic. Thank you for researching and writing about this often neglected topic. Great hub.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

So true BlissfulWriter. My daughter is a nurse and she has had to study all of the terminology. It is like another language - the language of medicine. Thanks for your comments.


BlissfulWriter profile image

BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

Very interesting. It is like learning a new language.

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