The realm of medicine is vast and can often feel intimidating, particularly when confronted with medical terminology. Understanding this specialized language may initially seem like a steep hill to climb. But fear not; we are here to help you. 

This blog aims to demystify the learning process by acquainting you with the fundamental medical terms essential on your path to becoming a proficient healthcare professional, be it a doctor, nurse, or any other specialist. These terms form the bedrock of your medical education and will prove indispensable in your future career.

Basics of Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is the specialized language of the healthcare and medical professions. It consists of a complex set of words and phrases that healthcare professionals use to communicate with one another and document patient information accurately. Therefore, understanding the basics of medical terminology is crucial for several reasons.

Why Is Medical Terminology Important?


Effective communication is the heartbeat of healthcare. Medical terminology is the universal language that makes this communication clear and precise. Here’s why it’s essential to understand it:

  1. Medical terms create a common language for healthcare professionals, allowing them to talk to each other with clarity and precision. Whether they are discussing diagnoses, treatment plans, or test results, these terms cut through the confusion.
  2. When it comes to patient records, accuracy is a must. Medical terminology helps create detailed and error-free documentation, which is crucial for safe and comprehensive patient care.
  3. Medical terminology isn’t bound by any one country or language. Many of these terms have roots in Latin and Greek, making them easily recognized around the globe. This worldwide understanding enables effective communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals, no matter where they are.

For medical students and those stepping into the healthcare field, getting a grip on medical terminology is like opening the door to a wealth of knowledge. It makes understanding textbooks, lectures, and clinical discussions much easier, significantly speeding up the learning journey.

30 Common Medical Terms You Should Know

Now that you know why getting familiar with medical terminology is vital, let’s dive deeper. Here are some of the medical terms that you should know:

  • Hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid gland
  • Bronchitis: Inflamed airway tubes, causing coughing
  • Migraine: Intense, often one-sided headaches often accompanied by other symptoms
  • Anemia: Low red blood cell count, leading to fatigue
  • Cataract: Cloudy eye lens, impairing vision
  • Pulmonary: Relating to the lungs and breathing
  • Endoscopy: A procedure that involves using a camera to view inside the body
  • Hernia: When an organ pushes through weakened muscle
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Joint inflammation, causing pain and stiffness
  • GERD: Stomach acid reflux into the esophagus, causing heartburn
  • Osteoarthritis: Joint pain and stiffness due to cartilage wear
  • Pneumothorax: Collapsed lung due to the presence of air outside the lung
  • Inflammation: A natural healing response triggering redness, swelling, and pain
  • Ulcer: Open sore on the skin or mucous membrane
  • Dementia: Cognitive decline affecting memory and thinking
  • Dialysis: A life-sustaining process to filter waste from blood when kidneys fail
  • Appendicitis: Inflammation of the appendix, causing abdominal pain
  • Pharmacy: Dispensary for medications
  • Epidemic: Widespread outbreak of a disease
  • Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver, often viral
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure, risking heart disease
  • Oncologist: Cancer specialist
  • Sepsis: Systemic infection leading to organ failure
  • Fracture: Broken bone
  • Insulin: Hormone regulating blood sugar
  • Tumor: Abnormal tissue mass, often cancerous
  • Anesthesia: Loss of sensation during surgery
  • Antibiotic: Medication for bacterial infections
  • Cholesterol: Fatty substance in blood, linked to heart health
  • Dyspnea: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

But it doesn’t stop here. Get ready to explore this fascinating terrain of medical terminology, where each word holds a piece of the healthcare puzzle.

Medical Root Words

Medical root words are the foundational words from which medical terms come. These root words are combined with prefixes and suffixes to create medical terms that mostly describe various body parts. 

Some of the most common medical root words include: 

  • Cardi(o): Related to the heart
  • Derm(a): Referring to the skin
  • Gastr(o): Related to the stomach
  • Nephr(o): Concerning the kidneys
  • Neur(o): Associated with nerves
  • Ophthalm(o): Pertaining to the eye
  • Hepat(o): Referring to the liver
  • Arthr(o): Concerning joints
  • Hem(at): Related to blood
  • Pulm(on): Pertaining to the lungs
  • Cyt(o): Referring to cells
  • My(o): Related to muscles
  • Oste(o): Concerning bones

Medical Prefixes 

Medical prefixes are added to the beginning of a root word to modify its meaning. They often indicate location, time, quantity, or negation.

  • A-, an-: Without or lack of (e.g., apathy – lack of feeling)
  • Anti-: Against (e.g., antibiotic – against bacteria)
  • Bi-: Two (e.g., bilateral – two sides)
  • Brady-: Slow (e.g., bradycardia – slow heart rate)
  • Dia-: Through, complete (e.g., diarrhea – passing through)
  • Dys-: abnormal, painful (e.g., dysfunction – impaired function)
  • Endo-: Inside (e.g., endoskeleton – internal skeleton)
  • Epi-: Upon, on top (e.g., epidermis – outer skin layer)
  • Hemi-: Half (e.g., hemiplegia – paralysis of one side)
  • Hyper-: Excessive, above (e.g., hypertension – high blood pressure)
  • Hypo-: Below, deficient (e.g., hypoglycemia – low blood sugar)
  • Inter-: Between (e.g., intercostal – between ribs)
  • Intra-: Inside, within (e.g., intravenous – within a vein)
  • Macro-: Large (e.g., macrocephaly – large head)
  • Micro-: Small (e.g., microorganism – tiny organism)
  • Neo-: New (e.g., neonatal – newborn)
  • Peri-: Around (e.g., pericardium – around the heart)
  • Poly-: Many (e.g., polydactyly – extra fingers or toes)
  • Sub-: Under, below (e.g., subcutaneous – under the skin)
  • Orth(o) – straight or correct

Medical Suffixes 

Medical suffixes are attached to the end of a root word to modify its meaning, often indicating a condition, procedure, or a particular part of the body. 

  • -itis: Inflammation (e.g., arthritis, dermatitis)
  • -osis: Abnormal condition (e.g., hypnosis, osteoporosis)
  • -ectomy: Surgical removal (e.g., appendectomy, tonsillectomy)
  • -logy: Study of something (e.g., cardiology, dermatology)
  • -pathy: Disease or disorder (e.g., neuropathy, myopathy)
  • -algia: Pain (e.g., neuralgia, arthralgia)
  • -emia: Blood condition (e.g., anemia, hypoglycemia)
  • -phobia: Fear (e.g., acrophobia, hydrophobia)
  • -centesis: Surgical puncture to remove fluid (e.g., thoracentesis, amniocentesis)
  • -rrhea: Flow or discharge (e.g., diarrhea, menorrhea)
  • -plasty: Surgical repair or reconstruction (e.g., rhinoplasty, angioplasty)
  • -oma: Tumor or mass (e.g., carcinoma, lipoma)
  • -cyte: Cell (e.g., erythrocyte, leukocyte)
  • -osis: Abnormal condition or increase (e.g., osmosis, scoliosis)
  • -megaly: Enlargement (e.g., hepatomegaly, splenomegaly)
  • -pnea: Concerning breathing (e.g., dyspnea, apnea)
  • -graphy: Process of recording (e.g., radiography, electrocardiography)

Medical Abbreviations and Acronyms

Medical abbreviations and acronyms are shortened forms of medical terms, often used for efficiency in documentation and communication. They are used extensively in medical charts, prescriptions, and communication among healthcare professionals. Here are some examples:

  • CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • ER: Emergency room
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging
  • CT: Computed tomography
  • IV: Intravenous
  • AIDS: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
  • HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus
  • DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid
  • RNA: Ribonucleic acid
  • BP: Blood pressure
  • CDC: Centers for disease control and prevention
  • FDA: Food and drug administration
  • AED: Automated external defibrillator
  • ECG: Electrocardiogram
  • WBC: White blood cell
  • RBC: Red blood cell
  • HbA1c: Hemoglobin A1c (used in diabetes management)
  • ENT: Ear, nose, and throat
  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder

Tips for Understanding and Remembering Medical Terms 

Mastering medical terminology is a crucial step in your journey into healthcare. However, the sheer volume and complexity of medical vocabulary can be daunting. Here are some practical tips to make the learning process of the medical terms smoother and more effective:

  • Break it down: As with any other lesson, you can start by breaking it down. One of the foundations of medical terminology is using Greek or Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Learning these basic components is essential to unlocking the code of medical words. By understanding these building blocks, you can demystify complex terms more easily.
  • Make flashcards: Creating flashcards is an age-old but effective method for learning and retaining medical terms. Write the medical term on one side of the card; on the other, jot down its definition or meaning. Regularly review these flashcards to reinforce your memory. This simple yet powerful technique helps you connect the word with its significance and recall it swiftly when needed.
  • Use mnemonics devices: Mnemonics are memory aids that can make complex medical terms much more manageable. They involve creating memorable phrases or associations that link a term to its meaning. For instance, to remember “bradycardia,” which means a slow heart rate, you might create a mnemonic like “Brad is a sloth,” associating Brad with “slow” and “cardia” with the heart. Mnemonics transform abstract terms into concrete mental images, making them easier to recall.
  • Employ visual aids: Many people are visual learners. Consider creating visual aids to enhance your understanding of medical terms. Drawing diagrams or using medical illustrations to connect words with specific body parts, conditions, or medical procedures can help you grasp the context and meaning more vividly.
  • Other useful study tips: Group studying, keeping a medical glossary, staying consistent, being patient, etc.

Additional Resources for Medical Terminology

Medical terminology resources can be valuable for a wide range of individuals, including patients, caregivers, those seeking to expand their knowledge of medical terms, students pursuing healthcare-related degrees, and professionals working in medical settings. These resources often come in various forms, such as:

  • Interactive multimedia tutorials and web-based medical dictionaries
  • Comprehensive online courses that delve into medical terminology
  • Accredited courses provided by colleges and universities which may lead to academic credit or certificates

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, understanding medical terminology is essential for effective communication in the healthcare field, accurate patient documentation, and international collaboration. Although learning all of them might seem challenging, utilizing mnemonic devices, flashcards, and visual aids can help improve your learning retention. 

How many medical terms are there?

It’s difficult to determine an exact number of medical terms, as there are thousands of them, and new terms continue to emerge as medical science advances.

What is the top of the hand called in medical terms

In medical terms, the top of the hand is called the “dorsum of the hand.”

What is the top of the foot called in medical terms?

In medical terms, the top of the foot is called the “dorsum of the foot.”

What does “TID” mean in medical terms?

“TID” in medical terms stands for “ter in die,” which is a Latin term that means “three times a day.” It usually indicates the frequency of medication dosing.

What is “OR” in medical terms?

In medical terms, “OR” typically means “Operating Room,” where surgical procedures occur.

What are the 4 main parts of a medical term?

The four main parts of a medical term are:

  • The prefix
  • The root word (or base)
  • The combining vowel
  • The suffix

What is the easiest way to learn medical terminology?

The easiest way to learn medical terminology is through a structured approach, including taking a medical terminology course or using online resources, textbooks, and flashcards. Break down complex terms into their components, learn common medical word roots and their meanings, use mnemonic devices, and practice regularly.