Words Of Medical Wisdom

It’s been on the news for months.  COVID seems like a word that’s been around forever, but only since late last year when it was identified as COrona Virus Disease, thus, COVID.  Because it was identified in 2019, it is COVID-19.  It has become, unfortunately, a household word.

Many other terms we use in COVID-speak are acronyms.  The Centers for Disease Control are known as the acronym CDC.  The World Health Organization is WHO. 

So many of the words and terms used in medicine are used without complete understanding of what they mean why we use them.  Knowledge is power, so to empower yourself in your own health care, knowledge of medical terminology is helpful. 

My day job is that of a medically-based SLP—speech language pathologist.  I am a.k.a. an ST, a speech therapist.  I work with PTs—physical therapists, and their assistants—PTAs, OTs—occupational therapists, as well as their assistants known as COTAs—certified occupational therapy assistants.  We provide tx—treatment, which is not to be confused with rx—a prescription or other treatment. 

We work with many people who have had a CVA—cerebrovascular accident—which is better known as a stroke.

Many people have “mini-strokes, which are TIAs—transient ischemic attacks.  Transient because they are typically there and gone, and ischemic, because it is a blockage vs. a hemorrhage.  Ischemic and hemorrhagic are the two main kinds of strokes. 

Unfortunately, after a CVA, many people end up in the ICU—the Intensive Care Unit.  Newborns who require intensive care, or who are born prematurely are taken care of in the NICU—neonatal intensive care unit. 

It is a good idea to be trained in CPR—cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, which can save someone’s life in the event of a heart attack.  If a person doesn’t wish to be resuscitated, they can have a DNR—do not resuscitate order on file in the event they are hospitalized and would prefer not to be revived.  Often, this is the choice when a person knows they are nearing the end of their life.

Specialized end-of-life care to ease the process of dying is provided by a hospice.  They focus on pain relief and making the person’s remaining time as comfortable and meaningful as possible, often with a spiritual component to treatment if the person wishes. 

The basic nature of many medical words can be deciphered by looking at the root of the word:

  • Cardio: the heart
  • Derma/Dermo:   the skin
  • Encephalo/Encephala:  the brain
  • Gastro:  the stomach
  • Hemato/Hemata:   blood
  • Osteo:   bone
  • Pulmon/o:  lungs

The beginning or ending of the medical term may also provide meaning, as indicated by the common prefixes and suffixes:

At the beginning of the word:

  • A-, an:  lack of, without
  • abnormal, difficult or painful
  • poly-:many, multiple
  • pseudo-: false or deceptive, usually in appearance
  • retro-backward or behind.

Then, at the end of the word:

  • ectomy:  surgical removal
  • itis:  indicates inflammation
  • lysis:  destruction, breaking down or decomposition
  • ology:  the study of a certain area
  • pathy:  disease or the disease process
  • plasty:  surgical repair
  • Some terms are discussed as an opposite to another:

    Benign is non-cancerous, while malignant indicates cancer.

    Chronic refers to a persistent condition that recurs, while acute indicates a condition that begins abruptly with a short duration.  It may or may not be severe. 

    An inpatient is a patient who has been admitted to the hospital for at least one night, while an outpatient is a patient who comes for a medical treatment or service, then returns home the same day. 


    If you have read much medical literature lately, it seems there are a few buzzwords—besides coronavirus– that are getting a lot of attention.  Inflammation is one such word, and it refers to often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.   It is thought to be your body’s fight against harmful things such as toxins, injuries or infections, as an attempt to heal itself.  When cells are damaged, your immune system springs to action, releasing chemicals that create this response.  Chronic inflammation, however, is a concern that has gained wider medical recognition recently, as it can have detrimental effects in the long term. 

    Unfortunately, as the Baby Boomer generation ages and continues to increase the lifespan, there are more diagnoses that these people have that compound their health problems.  Comorbidities are the multiple health woes that the Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—have, which are often obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other common diagnoses that, when they co-occur, create compounded health risks.

    Doctors, their assistants and nurse practitioners are often referred to in modern medical terminology as providers. 

    Outcome is a term that means pretty much what it says:  the end result of a treatment, procedure or plan of care.  Hopefully, it fulfills the goal that was set forth, as the highest level of function or good health possible in any given situation as the hope from the beginning. 

    Sepsis is a term that has been around for some time, but deserves to be understood.  Septicemia, or simply septic are all terms that indicate a life-threatening complication of an infection.  Chemicals are released in the bloodstream to fight an infection, triggering inflammation throughout the body.  It can cause multiple organ system failure, or even death. 


    Modern healthcare offers every indication that it will continue to become more sophisticated, and with this evolution, there will be more information and more terminology.  Keeping yourself educated about those terms that describe yours and your loved one’s health is important in your quest for the most optimal level of good health you can have.

    HTYH:  Here’s to your health!