At the end of the class you will be able to:
Medical terminology is often difficult to understand. This course will provide you with a wide variety of medical abbreviations and medical terms which should be studied and memorized. It will also provide you with an indepth knowledge of many medical terminology prefixes, suffixes and stems that will help you understand the meaning of hundreds of medical terms.
PREFIXES, SUFFIXES and STEMS
All medical terms can be broken down into word parts. The three word parts that you will be concerned with are the:
Usually, only two of these parts are present in a medical term. The stem is the part of the word which gives the basic meaning to the term. The part of the word, "basketball," which gives the basic meaning to the word is "ball." Therefore, "ball" is the stem or the root of the word.
The part of the word which comes before the stem and modifies the meaning of the stem is called the prefix. In the word "basketball," "ball" is the stem and "basket" is the prefix. The prefix is the part of the word which comes before the stem
The part of the word which comes after the stem and modifies the meaning of the root word is called the suffix. In the word "specialist","special" is the stem and "ist" is the suffix.
COMMONLY USED STEMS
The musculoskeletal system includes the bones, muscles, and joints. Some of the common stems pertaining to the musculoskeletal system are:
Osteo is a stem which means bone. A person who has osteo-arthritis, for example, has inflammation of the bones and joints.
The stem, arthro, means joint. Arthrodesis means fixation of a joint by fusion.
The stem chondro means cartilage. A person with chondr-itis, for example, has inflammation of the cartilage.
The stem myelo means bone marrow or spine. A person who has myelitis has an inflammation of the bone marrow or spine.
Myo is a stem which means muscle. A myospasm, for example, is an involuntary contraction of a muscle.
Tendo is a stem which means tendon. A person with tend-initis has inflammation of a tendon.
Costo is a stem which means rib. The intercostal space, for example, refers to the space between the ribs.
The integumentary system includes the skin and its appendages, the hair and the nails. Some of the common stems pertaining to the integumentary system are:
Derma is a stem which means skin. A person with dermatophytosis, for example, has a fungus condition of the skin.
Onycho is a stem which means nail. Onychectomy means surgical removal of the nail of a finger or toe.
The respiratory system includes the lungs, pleura, bronchi, pharynx, larynx, tonsils, and the nose. Some of the common stems pertaining to the respiratory system are:
Rhino and naso are stems which mean nose. A person who has rhinitis has inflammation of the nose.
Laryngo is a stem meaning larynx or voice box. A laryngoscopy is an examination of the interior of the larynx.
Tracheo is a stem which means upper windpipe or trachea. A person with tracheitis has an inflammation of the trachea or the upper windpipe.
Broncho is a stem which means lower windpipe or bronchus. A person with bronchitis has inflammation of the bronchus or lower windpipe.
Pulmo and pneumo are stems which mean lung. Pulmonary, for example, means concerning or involving the lungs. A person with pneumonia has an inflammation of the lungs.
Pneumo is a stem which also means air. Pneumonemia is the presence of air or gas in the blood vessel.
Pneo is a stem which means breath or breathing. Pneodynamics is the mechanism of breathing.
The digestive system or gastrointestinal tract begins with the mouth, where food enters the body and ends with the anus, where solid waste material leaves the body. Some of the common stems pertaining to the digestive system are:
The stem stoma means mouth. A person who has stomatitis, for example, has inflammation of the mouth.
Lingua and glossa are stems which mean tongue. Glossitis means inflammation of the tongue.
Lingual means pertaining to the tongue.
Dento and odonto are stems which mean tooth. A person with dentalgia has a pain in the tooth or teeth.
Cheilo is a stem which means lip. A cheiloplasty is the surgical repair of a defect of the lip.
Gingivo is a stem which means gums. A person with gingivitis has an inflammation of the gums.
Gastro is a stem which means stomach. A gastrectomy is the surgical removal of the stomach.
Entero is a stem which means intestine. A person with gastroenteritis has inflammation of the stomach and intestine.
Duodeno is a stem which pertains to the duodenum or first part of the small intestine. A duodenal ulcer, for example, is an ulcer which is located in the first part of the small intestine which is called the duodenum.
Jejuno is a stem which pertains to the jejunum or second part of the small intestine. A jejunectomy, for example, is an excision of a part of or all of the jejunum which is the second part of the small intestine.
Ileo is a stem which pertains to the ileum or third part of the small intestine. Ileitis means inflammation of the ileum which is the third part of the small intestine.
Colo is a stem which means colon. When a colostomy is performed, an incision is made into the colon.
Procto and ano are stems which mean rectum or anus. Proctitis means inflammation of the anus or rectum.
The stem hepato means liver. A person with hepatitis has an inflammation of the liver.
The stem cholecysto means gallbladder. A person who has had an operation called a cholecystectomy, for example, has had his gallbladder removed.
The stems celio and abdomino mean abdomen. A person who has had a celiectomy has had a complete or partial removal of an organ of the abdomen.
Laparo is a stem meaning abdominal wall. A person who has a laparotomy has had an incision made into the abdominal wall.
The cardiovascular system includes the heart and blood vessels. Some of the common stems pertaining to the cardiovascular system are:
The stem, cardio, means heart. The cardiovascular system includes the blood vessels and the heart.
Angio and vaso are stems which mean vessel. An angiogram is a series of X-ray film of a blood vessel.
Phlebo and veno are stems which mean vein. A phlebectomy is the surgical removal of a vein.
Arterio is a stem which means artery. A person who has arteriosclerosis has hardening of the arteries.
Thrombo is a stem which means clot of blood. Thrombophlebitis is an inflammation of a vein with a blood clot.
The hematopoietic system includes tissues concerned in the production of blood. The lymphatic system includes the lymphatic vessels and lymphoid tissues. Some of the common stems pertaining to the hematopoietic and lymphatic systems are:
Cyto is a stem meaning cell. An erythrocyte is one kind of blood cell. It is a red blood cell.
Hema and hemato are stems which mean blood. A hematoma is a tumor filled with blood.
Lympho is a stem which means lymph. A lymphocyte is a lymph cell.
Spleno is a stem which means spleen. A person who has had a splenectomy has had an excision of the spleen.
Phago is a stem which means to eat. A phagocyte is a cell that eats and destroys microorganisms.
The endocrine system is composed of glands which release hormones into the blood stream. Some of the common stems pertaining to the endocrine system are:
Acro is a stem which means extremity. Acromegaly is a disease characterized by enlargement of the bones of the extremities.
Gluco and glyco are stems which mean sugar. A person with glucosuria has sugar or glucose in the urine.
Adeno is a stem which means gland. Adenectomy is a word meaning surgical removal of a gland.
The nervous system along with the endocrine system maintain our adjustments and reactions to internal and environmental conditions. Some of the common stems pertaining to the nervous system are:
Neuro is a stem which means nerve. Polyneuritis means inflammation of many nerves.
Cerebro and encephalo are stems which mean brain. Encephalitis, for example, means inflammation of the brain.
Psycho and mento are stems which mean mind. Psychology is the science that studies the mind.
Mania is a stem which means madness. Pyromania, for example, means fire madness.
Phobia is a stem which means fear. A person with hydrophobia has a fear of water.
Esthesia is a stem which means feeling or sensation. Anesthesia means without feeling or sensation to an area.
The genitourinary system includes the genitals and the urinary organs. Some of the common stems pertaining to the genitourinary system are:
Nephro and rena are stems which mean kidney. A person who has had a nephrectomy has had a kidney removed.
Uretero is a stem which means ureter. A person who has ureteritis has an inflammation of the ureter.
Cysto is a stem which means bladder. A person who has cystitis has an inflammation of the bladder.
Urethro is a stem meaning urethra. Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra
Orchio is a stem which means testes. Orchiopexy means fixation of the testes.
Uro and uria are stems which mean urine. Urophobia is a term which means fear of passing urine.
Lith is a stem which means stone. Nephrolithiasis is the formation of renal stones.
Gynecology and obstetrics relates to the female reproductive system and birth. Some of the common stems pertaining to gynecology and obstetrics are:
Hystero and metro are stems which mean uterus or womb. A woman who has had a hysterectomy, for example, has had her uterus.
Oophoro is a stem which means ovary. A woman who has had an oophorectomy has had her ovary removed.
Salpingo is a stem which means fallopian tube. A woman who has salpingitis has an inflammation of a fallopian tube.
The sensory organs, as you may know, include the eye and the ear. Some of the common stems pertaining to the sensory organs are:
Oto is a stem which means ear. Otoplasty, for example, means plastic repair of the ear.
Tympano and myringo are stems which refer to the eardrum. A tympanoplasty means plastic repair of the eardrum.
Ophthalmo and oculo are stems which mean eye. Ophthalmology is the science dealing with the eye and its diseases.
Opto is a stem which means vision. An optometrist is a person who is trained to examine eyes in order to determine the presence of vision problems.
Blepharo is a stem which means eyelid. Blepharitis means inflammation of the eyelid.
Kerato is a stem which means cornea. Keratitis means inflammation of the cornea.
Dacryo is a stem which means tear. A person with dacryocystitis has inflammation of the tear sac.
Here are some other stems that are commonly used in medical terminology.
Pyo is a stem meaning pus. The word pyogenic means producing pus.
Lipo is a stem which means fat. A lipoma is a tumor composed of fat.
Febri is a stem which means fever. A person who is afebrile is without a fever or temperature. A person who is febrile has a fever or temperature.
Myco is a stem which means fungus. Mycosis is any disease caused by a fungus.
Necro is a stem which means dead. A necropsy is an autopsy or scientific inspection of a dead body.
Emesis is a stem which means vomit. Hyperemesis is a word which means excessive vomiting.
COMMONLY USED PREFIXES
Prefixes are one or more letters or syllables which come before the stem (at the beginning of a word) to explain or add meaning to the rest of the term. Prefixes may be divided into various categories of meaning depending on how they modify the stem, such as location, time, amount, color, negation, size, or position.
Prefixes relating to location include the following:
The prefix intra- means inside or within. The dash after intra- indicates that the stem comes after the prefix. By combining the prefix intra- with the stem abdominal, it means inside or within the abdomen.
Endo is also a prefix meaning within or inside. Metro is the stem meaning uterus. Endometritis, then, is a word which means inflammation of the inside of the uterus.
Peri- is a prefix which means around or surrounding. Cardio is the stem for heart. Pericarditis, then, is a word which means inflammation around the heart.
Ec- and ecto are prefixes which mean out and outside. An ectopic pregnancy, for example, is a pregnancy which occurs outside of the uterine cavity.
Em- and en are also prefixes which mean within or inside. Empyema, for example, means pus inside or within a body cavity.
Retro- and post- are prefixes which mean behind. Retrocardial means located behind the heart and postnasal means situated behind the nose.
The prefixes sub- and hypo- mean under. Subcutaneous, for example, means under the skin, and a hypodermic needle is one that is inserted under the skin.
Inter- is a prefix meaning between. The stem, costal, means ribs. Therefore, intercostal muscles are muscles which are between the ribs.
We will now study the prefixes that indicate time.
The prefixes ante- and pre- mean before. By combining the prefix ante-with the stem partum, you know that antepartum means before childbirth. A preoperative medication is a medication which is given before surgery.
The prefix post- means after. Consequently, a postoperative complication is a complication which occurred after surgery.
There are also prefixes that relate to negation or "not". These are as follows:
The prefixes a- or -an mean without or absence of. Therefore, afebrile means without a fever.
The stem esthesia means feeling. Therefore, anesthesia means without feeling.
The prefix anti- means against. The term antitoxin means against a toxin or poison.
Below are prefixes that relate to amount.
Uni and mono- are prefixes which mean one or single. Monocyte, for example, refers to a a single cell. A unicycle has one wheel.
Bi- is a prefix indicating the number two. Bi-lateral, then, refers to two sides. A bicycle has two wheels.
The prefix for three is tri. Therefore, the valve in the heart which has three parts is called the tricuspid valve. A tricycle has three wheels.
The prefix quadri- means four. A person with quadriplegia has paralysis in all four limbs.
The prefixes multi- and poly- mean many or much. A person with polyneuritis has inflammation of many nerves.
The prefixes hemi- and semi- mean half. A person with hemiplegia has paralysis on one half of the body. A person who is semiconscious is half or only partially conscious.
The prefix hypo- also means too little, or low. Therefore, a person with hypotension has low blood pressure.
Hyper- is a prefix that is just the opposite of hypo-. Hyper means above or high. A person with hypertension, then, has blood pressure above the normal or high blood pressure. Emesis, as you know, is a word that means vomiting. A word that means excessive vomiting is hyperemesis.
The prefix for fast is tachy-. A person with tachycardia has an abnormally rapid or fast heartbeat.
The prefix for slow is brady-. A person with bradycardia has an abnormally slow heartbeat.
The prefix for little or scanty is oligo-. The stem meaning urine is -uria. Therefore, oliguria means little or scant urine.
We will now study the prefixes that indicate color.
The prefix leuko- means white. A leukocyte, then, refers to a white blood cell.
Erythro- is a prefix meaning red. An erythrocyte, therefore, refers to a red blood cell.
Cyano- is a prefix meaning blue. Cyanosis refers to a blue condition of the skin.
Melano- is a prefix meaning dark or black. A melanoma is a malignant or dark black tumor.
Now, let's study the prefixes that indicate size.
Micro- is a prefix meaning small. A cyte is a stem meaning cell. A microcyte, therefore, is a very small or tiny cell. A word indicating smallness of heart is microcardia.
Macro- is a prefix which means the opposite of micro. Macro- is used in words to mean large. Things that are macroscopic can be seen with the naked eye. Very large cells are called macrocytes.
Mega- is also a prefix which means large. A megacolon is an abnormally large colon.
We will now study the prefixes that indicate position.
Antero- is a prefix meaning anterior part or in front of. Latero- is a prefix meaning side. Therefore, anterolateral means situated in the front and to one side.
Dextro- is a prefix which means to the right. Dextrocardia, therefore, refers to having the heart on the right side of the body.
Levo- is a prefix meaning to the left. Levoversion is a term which means the act of turning to the left
Medio- is a prefix meaning middle. The medial part of the body pertains to the middle.
We will now complete our study of the prefixes with some miscellaneous ones that are used in medical terminology.
Hydro- is a prefix meaning water. Hydrophobia, then, means fear of water.
Dys- is a prefix meaning difficult or painful. A patient with dyspnea would be experiencing painful or difficulty breathing.
Nox- and noct- are prefixes meaning night. Nocturia, therefore, means urination during the nighttime hours.
Mal- is a prefix meaning bad. Malodorous means having a bad odor.
Pan- is a prefix meaning total or all. A panhysterectomy, therefore, is a complete and total hysterectomy.
COMMONLY USED SUFFIXES
Suffixes are the final element which we will study in analyzing medical terms. Normally, when reading or breaking down a medical word, begin with the suffix. A suffix is a letter or syllable at the end of a word which adds meaning to the word. Like prefixes, suffixes could be placed into different categories of meaning. Suffixes differ from prefixes, however, in that a suffix comes after the stem.
The suffixes most commonly used to indicate disease are -itis, meaning inflammation; -oma, meaning tumor; and -osis, meaning condition, usually morbid.
Suffixes relating to diagnosis are below.
The suffix -cele means hernia, protrusion, or tumor. A gastrocele, then, is a protrusion or hernia of the stomach.
-Emia is the suffix for blood. A word we are all familiar with is leukemia, which is an abnormal amount of immature white blood cells. Hypoglycemia is a low amount of sugar in the blood.
-Ectasis and -ectasia are suffixes meaning dilation, dilatation, or expansion. Angiectasis, then, is abnormal dilation of a blood vessel.
The suffix for condition, formation of, or presence of is -iasis. Nephrolithiasis, therefore, is a formation of stones in the kidney.
The suffix for inflammation is -itis. Encephalitis, then, is the inflammation of the brain.
The suffix for softening is -malacia. Therefore, chondromalacia is softening of the cartilage.
The suffix for enlargement is -megaly. The stems for liver and spleen, as you will recall, are hepato and spleno. Hepatosplenomegaly, then, is the enlargement of the liver and spleen.
The suffix for hardening is -sclerosis. The stem for artery, as you will recall, is arterio. Arteriosclerosis, then, is hardening of the arteries.
The suffix for tumor is -oma; thus a lipoma is a fatty tumor.
The suffix for condition or disease is -osis. Dermatophytosis, then, is a disease or condition with a fungus of the skin.
The suffix for disease is -pathy. Thus, neuropathy is a disease or abnormality of the nerves.
The suffix for prolapse or downward displacement is -ptosis. The stem for eyelid, as you will recall, is blepharo. Therefore, a blepharoptosis is a downward displacement of the eyelid.
The suffix for rupture is -rrhexis. Cardiiiorrhexis, then, is a rupture of the heart.
The suffix for growth or nourishment is -trophy. The medical term for excessive growth is hypertrophy.
The suffix for fear is -phobia. Hydrophobia, then, is a fear of water.
Now let's look at suffixes related to operations.
The suffix for removal or excision is -ectomy. The stem, salpingo, means tube, and the stem, oophoro, means ovary. A salpingo-oophorectomy, therefore, is the removal of tubes and ovaries. The stem cholecysto, as you recall, means gallbladder. Removal or excision of the gallbladder, therefore, is called a cholecystectomy.
The suffix for inspection or examination is -scopy. A bronchoscopy, then is an examination of the bronchi.
-stomy is the suffix meaning surgical creation of an artificial opening. Therefore, a colostomy is an artificial opening into the colon.
-tomy is the suffix meaning incision or cutting into. A laparotomy, then, is an incision in the abdominal wall.
The suffix for binding or fixation is -desis. Arthrodesis, then, is the medical term for surgical fixation of a joint.
The suffix for suspension or fixation is -pexy. An orchiopexy is suspension or fixation of an undescended testis.
The suffix for repair of is -plasty. Tympano, as you recall, is the stem for eardrum. Tympanoplasty, then, is the term for the repair of the eardrum.
The suffix -centesis means puncture. Arthrocentesis, therefore, means the puncture of a joint for the removal of fluid.
We will now study the suffixes that relate to signs and symptoms.
-algia is a suffix meaning pain. Dentalgia, then, is the medical term for a pain in the tooth or a toothache.
-genic is the suffix for producing or originating. Pyo, as you recall, is the stem for pus. Pyogenic, then, is the term for producing pus.
-lysis is a suffix meaning destruction or breakdown. Hemolysis, therefore, means the destruction of red blood cells.
-rrhagia is the suffix meaning excessive flow or discharge. Thus, hemorrhage is a term meaning the excessive flow or discharge of blood.
Another suffix meaning excessive discharge or flow is -rrhea. Diarrhea is the medical term for excessive discharge of the bowel.
-penia is the suffix meaning decrease or deficiency. Erythropenia means a deficiency or decrease in the number of red blood cells.
-spasm is the suffix meaning involuntary contraction. The medical term myospasm, then, means an involuntary contraction of a muscle.
The suffixes -ic, -ac, -al, and -ar mean pertaining to. Cardiovascular, for example, means pertaining to the heart and vessels.
Berman, Audrey, Shirlee Snyder, Barbara Kozier and Glenora Erb. (2010). Kozier & Erb's Fundamentals of Nursing: Concepts, Process, and Practice. 8th Edition. Pearson Prentice Hall.
Copyright © 2010 Alene Burke
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