How to Understand Medical Words: MedlinePlus Resources

How to Understand Medical Words: MedlinePlus Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, M.A., M.S.

Posted on April 29, 2014

As we learn to participate in our own healthcare decisions, we need to know the meaning of medical words. Where can we find a resource that we can trust and understand, regardless of our culture, original language, reading level, or age?

A trustworthy resource to learn the meaning of medical words is MedlinePlus. The MedlinePlus website for patients and their families is produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

MedlinePlus offers a tutorial, “Understanding Medical Words.”

The MedlinePlus tutorial links to “Appendix A: Word Parts and What They Mean.”

The tutorial also links to “Appendix B: Some Common Abbreviations.”

In addition, MedlinePlus offers a Medical Dictionary.

The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia from MedlinePlus includes more than 4,000 articles about diseases, injuries, surgeries, symptoms, and tests, as well as many illustrations and photographs.

“Understanding Medical Words: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine,” breaks medical words into parts. Then, you learn how to put word parts together. You can take each quiz at your own pace.

Following are a few examples from the MedlinePlus Tutorial.

  • Break it up. Long medical words can have a beginning (or prefix), a middle (or root), and an ending (or suffix). One example is the word, “echocardiogram.” The beginning is “echo,” the middle is “cardio,” and the ending is “gram.”
  • Word Roots. Later in the tutorial, we learn that “echo” means using ultrasonic waves, “cardio” (word root) means heart, and “gram” means recording. So, echocardiogram means “recording of a heart test using ultrasonic waves.”
  • Beginnings and Endings. Medical words sometimes have just two parts, a beginning and an ending. For example, the beginning, “pharyng,” means the throat. The ending, “itis,” means inflammation. You go to your doctor and say, “It hurts to swallow. My nose is running and I can’t stop coughing.” Your doctor says, “Open wide and say, ahh.” After looking, your doctor says, “You have pharyngitis.” This means, “inflammation (itis) of your throat (pharyng).”
  • Quick Reviews. Tutorial diagrams of the human body help with quick reviews of word parts. For example, Brain = Enceph, Eye = Ocul(o), Ear = Ot(o), Nose = Rhino, Head = Ceph, Heart = Cardi(o), Liver = Hepat(o), and Large Intestine = Colo.
  • What You Know. The tutorial narrator reinforces what you learn. For example, if you know that “itis” means inflammation, then you also know that Hepatitis = inflammation of the liver, Gastritis = inflammation of the stomach, Encephalitis = inflammation of the brain, Otitis = inflammation of the ear.

MedlinePlus is a health information resource that is authoritative, updated daily, written in plain language, easy to navigate, and publicly accessible. It is also a quick and easy way to  build your knowledge of medical words and concepts!

References

 National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. “Understanding Medical Words: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine.”
(Accessed 10 April 2014)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. “Appendix A: Word Parts and What They Mean: MedlinePlus.”
(Accessed 11 April 2014)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. “Appendix B: Some Common Abbreviations: MedlinePlus.”
(Accessed 11 April 2014)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. “Medical Dictionary: MedlinePlus.”
(Accessed 10 April 2014)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. “Medical Encyclopedia: MedlinePlus.”
See also, “A.D.A.M. Interactive Software.”
(Accessed 11 April 2014)

 A disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other healthcare provider.