Basics of Medical Terminology

Before we can start introducing medical terms, we need to establish a few fundamental guidelines of how medical terminology is constructed as a language.

There are three basic parts to medical terms: 1) a word root, 2) a prefix, and 3) a suffix.  The root word contains the central meaning of the word. The prefix comes at the beginning and usually identifies some subdivision or part of the root word. The suffix comes at the end and modifies the root word. When presented with a medical term, most observers are overwhelmed. The word looks Greek!  In fact, it probably is. Most medical terms originate from Greek or Latin words.  Don’t worry if you don’t know Greek or Latin. Everything will fall into place once we’ve covered root words, prefixes, and suffixes.

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An eponym is a medical term named after the person who discovered the disease, illness, or medical procedure.  For example, Crohn’s Disease is named after Burrill Bernard Crohn who was one of the doctors who first wrote of the disease. Tourette Syndrome is named after George Gilles de la Tourette who first described the syndrome. On a side note, Tourette didn’t name the disease after himself. Tourette’s mentor later named the disease after Tourette.

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Etymology indicates the origin of a word and its historical development of its meaning.

An acronym is an abbreviation formed by the individual components in a phrase or word. Acronyms are normally composed of the first letters from each word in a longer name. For example,laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Other acronyms in common use in the medical field are CAT scan, MRI, EKG, and COPD.

Do you understand what eponym, etymology, and acronym mean? Great.  Let’s move forward!

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