Understanding Medical Terminology


The field of medicine encompasses many different areas and is a broad field of study that includes medical science, biomedical research and healthcare. It is also divided into many subspecialties, including pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, emergency and critical care, oncology and radiation therapy.

The word medicine is derived from the Greek words meaning “to heal” and “to give life,” and refers to the practice of diagnosing, treating or alleviating the symptoms of disease and illness. In Western culture, it became the scientific study of human diseases and their prevention or cure using evidence based research and scientific methodology.

Historically, the practice of medicine has incorporated the use of plants (herbalism), animals and minerals for medicinal purposes. These practices were largely abandoned in the modern era as the emergence of scientific methods and biomedical research displaced these traditions.

Today, the study of medical science is generally a requirement for becoming a physician. In many countries, this requires a university degree and accreditation by a medical board or similar national organization. It is intended as a safeguard against charlatans that may not have the proper knowledge and skills to diagnose or treat a patient effectively and safely, and it also ensures that physicians are trained and qualified to deliver high-quality, safe and effective medicine.

Medical terminology is a set of standards that describes the language used to describe anatomical structures, processes, conditions and medical procedures. These definitions are often confusing at first, but learning them will allow you to understand more and more of the language of medical care.

Understanding medical terms is a crucial skill for anyone who wants to work in the health sciences, or for anyone preparing for a career on the clinical side of healthcare, such as a medical sonographer, radiation therapist or magnetic resonance imaging technologist. It is also necessary for people who want to understand their own medical history, so they can make decisions that will improve their health and prevent disease from developing in the future.

Some medical terms follow a fixed structure that is easy to learn and remember: the term begins with a root, followed by a prefix and ending with a suffix. This structure helps readers to ascertain the meaning of an unfamiliar term, and it also makes it possible to break a word down into its components and define each component in turn.

Root: The root gives a term its essential meaning, determining whether the word is a noun, verb or adjective. Nearly all medical terms contain a root.

Prefix: A prefix modifies the meaning of a word, indicating its location, type, quality or body category. Some prefixes are optional, while others appear frequently in medical terms.

Suffix: The suffix is the last part of a word and indicates a specialty, test, procedure, function, disorder or status. Alternatively, it can simply indicate whether the word is a noun or an adjective.

Combining vowel: A combining vowel is usually added between the word parts of a term to aid in pronunciation.