Understanding medical terminology is key when it comes to getting the best healthcare. Doctors and administrators use abbreviations as shorthand for everyday health problems, which can seem like a foreign language to many patients. Having an understanding of the basic terms and their meanings can go a long way in helping to alleviate confusion and empower patients to become better advocates for their health.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the more commonly encountered medical terms and abbreviations and explain their uses. Understanding what these terms mean can help to illuminate some often-debilitating everyday ailments and health issues and ensure that patients have a grasp of the conversations they may have with their providers.
Overview of Common Medical Terms
When looking at medical terms, it’s helpful to categorize them into main groups. These groups include:
• Diagnoses – These are the words used to describe a medical problem, condition, illness, or injury.
• Treatments – These words represent the remedies used to alleviate medical issues.
• Prevention – These terms refer to steps taken to avoid a medical issue before it becomes a problem.
• Tests – These terms describe medical tests and screenings used to help diagnose a condition.
• Symptoms – These words refer to feelings or physical evidence that something is wrong.
Common Medical Abbreviations and Definitions
When discussing medical terminology, it’s important to understand many of the acronyms and abbreviations commonly used by healthcare providers. Here are some of the most frequently encountered terms and their definitions:
• AR: Acute respiratory (A condition affecting the lungs).
• AST: Aspartate aminotransferase (A type of enzyme found in the blood).
• BPM: Beats per minute (The rate of the heartbeat).
• CBC: Complete blood count (A test used to measure various components of the blood).
• CT: Computed tomography (A type of test used to diagnose medical conditions).
• DNR: Do not resuscitate (A legal document allowing medical staff to withhold extraordinary life-extending measures).
• EKG: Electrocardiogram (A test that records the electrical signals in the heart).
• ER: Emergency room (The department within a hospital that treats immediate medical issues).
• FBS: Fasting blood sugar (A test to measure the amount of sugar in the blood after fasting for eight hours).
• GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (A disorder characterized by heartburn and acid reflux).
• GFR: Glomerular filtration rate (A measure of how well the kidneys are working).
• MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (A type of scan used to diagnose medical issues).
• OTC: Over the counter (Drugs available without a prescription as opposed to prescription medications).
• PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder (A mental health condition involving emotional and mental trauma following a traumatic event).
• Rx: Prescription (A written order from a medical provider for certain medications).
• SPF: Sun protection factor (A measure of the protection that a product will provide against the sun’s ultraviolet rays).
• TIA: Transient ischemic attack (A temporary blockage in a part of the brain’s blood supply).
• UTI: Urinary tract infection (An infection that affects any part of the urinary system).
• WBC: White blood cell (A type of cell responsible for fighting infection).
• X-ray: X-ray radiography (A type of imaging used to diagnose bone or joint problems).
• ZIKV: Zika virus (A virus spread most commonly through mosquito bites).
Common Medical Terminology for Diagnoses
Understanding the medical terms for diagnoses can help when talking to healthcare professionals about medical issues. Here are some of the most commonly encountered diagnosis terms and their definitions:
• Anemia: A condition in which there is a decreased number of red blood cells in the body.
• Asthma: A chronic lung disease in which the airways become narrowed and inflamed, resulting in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
• Bursitis: A condition characterized by inflammation of a bursa – a small, fluid-filled sac located in joints and between tendons and bones – leading to pain and swelling.
• Carpal tunnel syndrome: A condition caused by pressure on the median nerve, leading to numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and wrist.
• Diabetes: A health disorder that affects the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels.
• Fracture: A break in a bone or cartilage, often caused by trauma or overexertion.
• Hypertension: A condition characterized by excessively high blood pressure.
• Influenza: A contagious illness that is caused by a virus and is characterized by fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches.
• Myalgia: A medical term for muscle pain.
• Osteoporosis: A medical condition characterized by fragile, porous bones, caused by reduced bone mass and inadequate development of bone tissue.
• Pneumonia: An infection of the lungs that is usually caused by bacteria, resulting in swelling and inflammation of the air sacs (alveoli).
• Strep throat: A sore throat caused by a bacterial infection.
• Tendonitis: Inflammation of a tendon, the tissue that connects a muscle to a bone, leading to pain and stiffness.
Common Medical Terminology for Treatments
Knowledge of recognizable medical terms can help when discussing treatment options with health care providers. Here are some of the most common terms and their definitions:
• Antibiotics: Drugs used to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.
• Antidepressants: Medications used to treat depression.
• Biopsy: The process of removing a sample of tissue from an affected area in the body for examination under a microscope.
• Dialysis: A multifaceted process used to facilitate filtering and cleansing of the bloodstream when the kidneys are unable to function.
• Exposure therapy: A therapeutic technique used to help people confront their fears or phobias.
• Herbal remedies: Natural products used to treat or prevent illness.
• Immunotherapy: A type of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight disease.
• Laser therapy: The use of focused light beams to treat certain diseases or medical conditions.
• Physical therapy: Exercises or treatments used to rehabilitate the body or reduce pain.
• Radiation: The use of high-energy particles or waves, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors.
• Surgery: An operation performed under general or local anesthetic to repair a condition or remove diseased tissue.
• Vaccination: A procedure used to prevent or protect against disease.
Common Medical Terminology for Prevention
Preventative care is key in maintaining health. Here are some of the most commonly used words and phrases related to prevention:
• Exercise: Physical activity designed to maintain or improve overall health.
• Flu shot: An injection containing a weakened version of the flu virus used to help induce immunity.
• Handwashing: The cleaning of hands with soap and water to prevent the spread of germs.
• Healthy diet: Eating the right foods in the right amounts to maintain good health.
• Immunizations: A procedure used to prevent or protect against disease by introducing a vaccine into the body.
• Quitting smoking: Stopping the use of cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco-related products.
• Stress management: Enhancing one’s adjustable mental, emotional, and physical responses to adversity.
• Sunscreen: A product that absorbs or reflects UV rays from the sun, providing protection from sunburns.
• Vaccinations: An injection of a weakened version of a virus that helps to induce immunity against disease.
Common Medical Terminology for Tests
Often times, the tests used to diagnose medical problems involve the use of medical terminology. Here are some of the most commonly used words and their meanings:
• Blood test: A test that measures levels of substances such as cholesterol, glucose, or white blood cells in the blood.
• Colonoscopy: A procedure used to look at the large intestine and rectum using a flexible tube and camera.
• EEG: Electroencephalogram – a test used to measure electrical activity in the brain.
• Mammogram: An X-ray of the breasts used to detect tumors or other abnormal tissue.
• Pap test: A test used to determine if changes in cervical cells point to cervical cancer.
• PET scan: A type of imaging test used to detect cancer and other medical problems.
• Pulmonary function test: A test used to measure how well the lungs are working.
• Urine test: A