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Medical terminology 101

Medical terminology 101

Medical terminology! Sometimes I am quite sure doctors and nurses use medical jargon just to frustrate me.

However, I have discovered this is not the primary reason they use it. Medical terminology is a key to the wonderful world of human anatomy and physiology (all of your body’s bits and pieces), diseases, laboratory testing, imaging, and medical procedures. Medical terminology is very important and it is important for you to understand so you can be an active part of your health care.

Precise body parts need a precise name for very obvious reasons when doctors and nurses are trying to treat you. I am sure none of us want the wrong bits removed or something else put in the wrong spot. I am certain you can see where very broad and generalised words can lead us.

Medical terminology makes medical communication clear, succinct, and direct.

I can put you on to a fabulously handy book about medical terminology called “Medical Terminology for Dummies” or hit up Dr Google – but please make sure you talk to a real medical professional if you have health problems and before you diagnose yourself or anyone else with a disease or some other medical problem.

Medical terms can be broken down into parts which give us the keys to know what the term means. With a little research and practice you can become medical terminology fluent.

Some words are the old Latin or Greek ones. Others are named after a person and others are acronyms of longer phrases. To pronounce a word, as with English, try phonetics. I know that doesn’t always work, but it’s a good starting point.

The first trick is to break down the word and work out what each part means. Look at words like appendectomy or splenectomy – the first part of the word is the body part and the second part (suffix) is the action:

  • Appendectomy – the surgical removal of the appendix.
  • Splenectomy – the surgical removal of the spleen.

Diseases named after people

For an example of medical terms using a person’s names it is difficult to go past terms like Parkinson’s’ Disease and here is a list of diseases named after people.

Body parts named after people

There’s a whole reel of body parts named after people, including the Achilles tendon and the Adam’s apple, and here are a few more human body parts named after people.


Now let’s talk acronyms. A curse or a blessing in our modern world, the acronym is a useful tool in medicine. We have all heard of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), GP (general practitioner), PEARL (pupils equal and reactive to light), and here’s a big long list of accepted medical acronyms.

CPR then needs to be broken down again. What is cardiopulmonary? Well we have cardio which is fairly common; it’s our heart. Pulmonary, well that’s our lungs. CPR is the resuscitation of our heart and lungs. Now you can see how this works. It’s really quite fun if you’re a medical terminology nerd.

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty – the human body

This blog is the first of many on how to read and understand medical terminology; and hopefully provide you with a few interesting titbits of information about the human body.

I think the best place to start is with the anatomical structure of the body.

The human body is made up of a whole lot of systems; for example the skeletal system, circulatory system, endocrine system (have I got you stumped with this one?), muscular system, nervous system, integumentary system, respiratory system, and the list goes on.

Each of these systems are made of cells doing what they are meant to do with the single focus of achieving life and there are a few who are focused on the next generation.

The body is also divided in sections or parts. We have all heard of the head, torso, abdomen, pelvis, and the like. However, medical professionals also refer to quadrants and planes of the human body – the point here is to be more precise.

Be empowered when you are reading medical records you may have obtained through Freedom of Information and stay tuned for the continuing series on medical terminology.

Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Andersons Solicitors. It relates to South Australian legislation. Andersons Solicitors is a medium sized law firm servicing metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia across all areas of law for individuals and businesses.

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