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Useful Terms for Medical Assistants

Medicine has its own language but it isn’t really as mysterious as they make it sound on House. Many medical words come from other, more familiar ones. The secret is looking at parts of the words and associating them with more familiar concepts like inflammation (“-itis”).  Put some together and you’ll start to recognize other words, such as leukemia or arthritis.

“Arthr/o” means “joint” and the suffix “itis” means “inflammation.”  So the definition of the medical term Arthritis means inflammation of the joint. Likewise, “leuko” means “white” and “emia” means “blood.” Leukemia is a cancer of the blood caused by too many leukocytes, or white blood cells.

Following is a list of prefixes, suffixes, and roots that make up common medical terms, provided by The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Second Edition.


Term Translation Term Translation
adeno gland hyper excessive or high
angio vessel hypo deficient or low
anter(i) front or forward iatr(o) doctor
anti against infra beneath
arteri(o) artery itis inflammation
arthr(o), articul joint leuk white
carcin(o) cancer lingu(o) tongue
cardi(o) heart lipo fat
cephal(o) head lys(is) dissolve
cerebr(o) brain melan(o) black
cervic neck mening(o) membranes
chol(e) bile or reference to the gall bladder myo muscle
crani(o) skull myel(o) Bone marrow
cyst(o) bladder nas(o) nose
dent tooth necr(o) death
derm(ato) skin nephr(o) kidney
dors back neur(o) nerve
dys faulty nutri nourish
ectomy excise, or removal by cutting out ocul(o) eye
emia blood oma tumor
encephalo brain osis condition
enter(o) intestines path(o) disease
epi outer Pharmacy(o) drug
erythr(o) red phleb(o) vein
gastro stomach plasty repair
pnea breathing
pneumono lung


Source: “Understanding Medical Terms.” The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Merck, Feb. 2003. Web. October 8, 2010.

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