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Understanding Medical Terms

By Manuals Staff

At first glance, medical terminology can seem like a foreign language. But often the key to understanding medical terms is focusing on their components (prefixes, roots, and suffixes). For example, spondylolysis is a combination of "spondylo, " which means vertebra, and "lysis," which means dissolve, and so means dissolution of a vertebra.

The same components are used in many medical terms. "Spondylo" plus "itis, " which means inflammation, forms spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae. The same prefix plus "malacia, " which means soft, forms spondylomalacia, a softening of the vertebrae.

Knowing the meaning of a small number of components can help with interpretation of a large number of medical terms. The following list defines many commonly used medical prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

a(n)

absence of

malac

soft

acou, acu

hear

mamm(o)

breast

aden(o)

gland

mast(o)

breast

aer(o)

air

megal(o)

large

alg

pain

melan(o)

black

andr(o)

man

mening(o)

membranes

angi(o)

vessel

my(o)

muscle

ankyl(o)

crooked, curved

myc(o)

fungus

ante

before

myel(o)

marrow

anter(i)

front, forward

nas(o)

nose

anti

against

necr(o)

death

arteri(o)

artery

nephr(o)

kidney

arthr(o)

joint

neur(o)

nerve

articul

joint

nutri

nourish

ather(o)

fatty

ocul(o)

eye

audi(o)

hearing

odyn(o)

pain

aur(i)

ear

oma

tumor

aut(o)

self

onc(o)

tumor

bi, bis

double, twice, two

oophor(o)

ovaries

brachy

short

ophthalm(o)

eye

brady

slow

opia

vision

bucc(o)

cheek

opsy

examination

carcin(o)

cancer

orchi(o)

testes

cardi(o)

heart

osis

condition

cephal(o)

head

osse(o)

bone

cerebr(o)

brain

oste(o)

bone

cervic

neck

ot(o)

ear

chol(e)

bile, or referring to gall-bladder

path(o)

disease

chondr(o)

cartilage

ped(o)

child

circum

around, about

penia

deficient, deficiency

contra

against, counter

peps, pept

digest

corpor

body

peri

around

cost(o)

rib

phag(o)

eat, destroy

crani(o)

skull

pharmaco

drug

cry(o)

cold

pharyng(o)

throat

cut

skin

phleb(o)

vein

cyan(o)

blue

phob(ia)

fear

cyst(o)

bladder

plasty

repair

cyt(o)

cell

pleg(ia)

paralysis

dactyl(o)

finger or toe

pnea

breathing

dent

tooth

pneum(ato)

breath, air

derm(ato)

skin

pneumon(o)

lung

dipl(o)

double

pod(o)

foot

dors

back

poie

make, produce

dys

bad, faulty, abnormal

poly

much, many

ectomy

excision (removal by cutting)

post

after

emia

blood

poster(i)

back, behind

encephal(o)

brain

presby

elder

end(o)

inside

proct(o)

anus

enter(o)

intestine

pseud(o)

false

epi

outer, superficial, upon

psych(o)

mind

erythr(o)

red

pulmon(o)

lung

eu

normal

pyel(o)

pelvis of kidney

extra

outside

pyr(o)

fever, fire

gastr(o)

stomach

rachi(o)

spine

gen

become, originate

ren(o)

kidneys

gloss(o)

tongue

rhag

break, burst

glyc(o)

sweet, or referring to glucose

rhe

flow

gram, graph

write, record

rhin(o)

nose

gyn

woman

scler(o)

hard

hem(ato)

blood

scope

instrument

hemi

half

scopy

examination

hepat(o)

liver

somat(o)

body

hist(o)

tissue

spondyl(o)

vertebra

hydr(o)

water

steat(o)

fat

hyper

excessive, high

sten(o)

narrow, compressed

hypo

deficient, low

steth(o)

chest

hyster(o)

uterus

stom

mouth, opening

iatr(o)

doctor

supra

above

infra

beneath

tachy

fast, quick

inter

among, between

therap

treatment

intra

inside

therm(o)

heat

itis

inflammation

thorac(o)

chest

lact(o)

milk

thromb(o)

clot, lump

lapar(o)

flank, abdomen

tomy

incision (operation by cutting)

latero

side

tox(i)

poison

leuk(o)

white

uria

urine

lingu(o)

tongue

vas(o)

vessel

lip(o)

fat

ven(o)

vein

lys(is)

dissolve

vesic(o)

bladder

mal

bad, abnormal

xer(o)

dry

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