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MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY (rev. 03/31/16)

As an EMT, you will probably never have to use more than a few medical terms in the course of your pre-hospital emergency care activities, and most of them will probably deal with parts of the body. Physicians and nurses prefer EMTs to speak in other than medical terms. But if you are an avid reader, much of what you read is likely to be freely sprinkled with medical terms, and if you cannot translate them you may not understand what you are reading. Medical terms are comprised of words, word roots, combining forms, prefixes, and suffixes-all little words, if you will, and each with its own definition.  Sometimes medical terms are made up of two whole words. For example, the word SMALL is joined with the word POX to form the medical term SMALLPOX, the name of a disease. What if it were all so simple!

Word roots are the foundations of words and are not used by themselves. THERM is a word root that means heat; to use it alone would make no sense. But when a vowel is added to the end of the word root to make it the combining form THERM/O, it can be joined with other words or word roots to form a compound term. THERM/O and METER (an instrument for measuring) combine to form THERMOMETER, an instrument for measuring heat or temperature. More than one word root or combining form can be joined to form medical terms; ELECTROCARDIOGRAM is a good example. ELECTR/O (electric) is joined to CARDI (heart) and the suffix -GRAM (a written record) to form the medical term that means a written record of the heart's electrical activity.

Prefixes are used to modify or qualify the meaning of word roots. They usually tell the reader what kind of where (or in what direction), or how many.  The term -PNEA relates to breathing, but it says nothing about the quality or kind of breathing. Adding the prefix DYS- qualifies it as difficult breathing.  ABDOMINAL PAIN is a rather broad term; it gives the reader no clue as to exactly where the pain is located either inside or outside the abdomen.  Adding the prefix -INTRA to ABDOMINAL pinpoints the location of the pain, for INTRA-ABDOMINALPAIN means pain within the abdomen. -PLEGIA refers to paralysis of the limbs. The prefix QUADRI informs the reader as to how many limbs are paralyzed. QUADRIPLEGIA means paralysis of all four limbs.

Suffixes are word endings that form nouns, adjectives, or verbs.  Medical terms can have more than one suffix, and a suffix can appear in the middle of a compound term affixed to a combining form. A number of suffixes have specialized meanings. ITIS means inflammation; thus ARTHRITIS means inflammation of a joint. -IAC forms a noun indicating a person afflicted with a certain disease, as for example, HEMOPHILIAC. Some suffixes are joined to word roots to form terms that indicates a state, quality, condition, procedure, or process. PNEUMONIA and PSORIASIS are examples of medical conditions, while APPENDECTOMY and ARTHROSCOPY are examples of medical procedures. The suffixes in each case are underlined.

Some suffixes combine with word roots to form adjectives, words that modify nouns by indicating quality or quantity or by distinguishing one thing from another. GASTRIC, CARDIAC, FIBROUS, ARTHRTIC, and DIAPHORETIC are all examples of adjectives formed by adding suffixes (underlined) to word roots.  Some suffixes are added to word roots to express reduction in size, -OLE and -ULE, for example. An ARTERIOLE is smaller than an ARTERY, and a VENULE is smaller than a vein.  When added to word roots, -E and –IZE form verbs. EXCISE, and CATHETERIZE are examples.

Finally, some of what are commonly accepted as suffixes are actually the combination of a word root and a suffix. -MEGALY (enlargement) results from the combination of the word root MEGAL (large) and the suffix -Y (which forms the term into a noun). CARDIOMEGALY means enlargement of the heart.

Below you will find a list of resources to assist you with studying medical terminology. There is a Standard Medical Terms Document that automatically downloads to your computer for you to print. There are also several Quizlets, which can be accessed from your computer or mobile device to study and play games with the terms. The Medical Terminology Word Parts are divided into alphabetized sections.

Standard Medical Terms Document

Standard Terms Quizlet

Medical Terminology - Planes Quizlet

Medical Terminology - Word Parts A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K-L, M, N, O, P-Q, R, S, T, U-Z.