Medical Terminology & Abbreviations Guide

Medical Terminology & Abbreviations Guide

When you work in any healthcare setting, you’ll encounter a lot of complicated words. This may seem difficult to understand as a layperson or a beginner medical student, but it doesn’t have to be. You can find the meaning of a lot of medical terms if you look into their root words and suffixes.


thinking student
Bianca Villanueva


July 4, 2024

In this article, I’ll discuss the most commonly used medical suffixes and terms. In other words, these are the ones you’ll most likely run into as a healthcare worker. First, I’ll explain the meaning of the affixes and provide some examples to help you understand how these words are “decoded.”

Honestly, it feels like learning a new language, and it kinda is!

From diseases to subject fields to medical equipment, these words are must-knows, especially for aspiring doctors like you! Of course, you’ll learn these terms throughout your life in medical school, but it’s also not bad to get a head start at learning them! Take note that these aren’t all the must-know affixes, but these are some of the most common ones.



-pathy, -iasis/-esis/-osis, -ia: “disease”

These suffixes are found at the end of disease names.


  • Neuropathy: Neuro (pertains to nervous system) + pathy (diseases) = nerve disease
  • Myopathy: Myo (muscle) + pathy (disease) = muscle disease
  • Silicosis: Silico (silica) + osis (disease) = disease involving the inhalation of silica
  • Psoriasis: Psora (itch) + iasis (disease) = disease involving itchiness of the skin

-itis: “inflammation”

This is one of the most common suffixes you’ll encounter and use because it pertains to inflammation. Many diseases involve inflammatory processes because it’s the body’s protective response to many abnormalities.


  • Gastritis: Gastro (stomach) + itis (inflammation) = inflammation in the stomach
  • Dermatitis: Derma (skin) + itis (inflammation) = inflammation of the skin
  • Appendicitis: Appendix + itis (inflammation) = inflammation of the appendix
  • Myocarditis: Myo (muscle) + cardio (heart) + itis (inflammation) = inflammation of the heart muscles

-ectasia vs -stenosis: “dilatation” vs “narrowing”

Next, we’ll compare two words used in opposite conditions.

-Ectasia means dilatation, distension, or swelling. Meanwhile, -stenosis refers to narrowing.


  • Bronchiectasis: Bronchio (bronchioles) + ectasia (dilatation) = dilatation of the bronchioles
  • Angioectasia: Angio (blood vessels) + ectasia (swelling) = swelling of blood vessels
  • Bronchiostenosis: Bronchio (bronchioles) + stenosis (narrowing) = narrowing of the bronchioles
  • Angiostenosis: Angio (blood vessels) + stenosis (narrowing) = narrowing of the blood vessels

-phasia: “speech”

Whenever you hear the word -phasia, you commonly think of “aphasia” which is a common neurological sign in patients with brain damage. However, -phasia generally refers to speech.


  • Aphasia: A (without) + phasia (speech) – Full loss of language
  • Dysphasia: Dys (dysfunction) + phasa(speech) – Partial loss of language

-genic: causes

When we say “genes”, we think about what makes a person and where everything about them comes from.

-Genic pertains to an origin or cause. Likewise, -genesis means to make.


  • Oncogenic: Onco (tumor) + genic (cause) = causes the development of tumor/s
  • Glycogenesis: Glycogen + genesis (to make) = the process of forming glycogen

-malacia vs -sclerosis: softening or hardening of tissue

-Malacia involves the abnormal softening of tissue while -sclerosis is the hardening of tissue.


  • Osteomalacia: Osteo (bone) + malacia (softening) = softening of the bone
  • Osteosclerosis: Osteo (bone) + sclerosis (hardening) = thickening of the bone

-megaly: “enlarged”

When we use any word with “mega”, we think: big. In medical terminology, it usually means an abnormal or irregular increase in size.


  • Cardiomegaly: Cardio (heart) + megaly (enlargement) = enlargement of the heart
  • Hepatomegaly: Hepato (liver) + megaly (enlargement) = enlargement of the liver

Sensation and Movement

-asthenia: “weakness”

This refers to the weakness of something, usually a body part. It is also used in disease names.


  • Myasthenia gravis: Myo (muscle) + asthenia (weakness) + gravis (severe/grave) = Severe muscle weakness

-algia: “pain”

-Algia pertains to pain in a particular part of the body, usually indicated by the root word.


  • Myalgia: Myo (muscle) + algia (pain) = Muscle pain
  • Arthralgia: Arthro (joint) + algia (pain) = Joint pain

-paresis vs -plegia: “reduction strength” vs “complete paralysis”

These two words get mixed up a lot by students. Take note that the difference is the severity. -Paresis refers to the reduction of strength, while -plegia usually means complete inability/paralysis.


  • Hemiparesis: Hemi (half) + paresis (weakness) = Weakness of one side of the body
  • Hemiplegia: Hemi (half) + plegia (paralysis) = Paralysis of one side of the body

Cancer and Hyperplasia

-oma vs -carcinoma vs -sarcoma: “tumor” vs “cancer from epithelial tissue” vs “cancer from soft tissue”

Whenever anyone hears “-oma” at the end of a complicated word, they automatically think “cancer.”

However, there’s more to it than just cancer. “-oma” refers to the abnormal growth of tissue like a tumor or swelling, also known as neoplasms. These may or may not be benign in nature. “-carcinoma” and “-sarcoma” refers to cancerous tumors. The difference is that carcinomas originate from epithelial tissue (the outer covering of many surfaces in the body), while sarcomas originate from soft tissue cancers (muscles, blood vessels, etc.)


  • Lipoma: Lipo (fat) + oma (tumor) = Tumor made of fatty tissue
  • Liposarcoma: Lipo (fat) + sarcoma (cancer) = Cancer that originates from fat cells
  • Adenocarcinoma: Adeno (gland) + carcinoma (cancer) = Cancer originating from glandular tissue and it also takes the form of glandular tissue

-cele: “swelling/hernia”

This word doesn’t mean cancerous outgrowths. This usually refers to swelling or hernias at specific parts of the body.


  • Meningocele: Meningo (meninges) + cele (swelling) = cystic swelling of meninges
  • Hydrocele: Hydro (water) + cele (swelling) = swelling in the scrotum made of fluid


-rrhexis: “rupture/degeneration”

This word refers to the rupture of tissue.


  • Karyorrhexis: Karyo (nucleus) + rrhexis (rupture) = Rupture/degeneration of the nucleus of a cell
  • Amniorrhexis: Amnio (amniotic sac) + rrhexis (rupture) = rupture of amniotic sac during pregnancy

-osis/-philia vs -penia: “predominance” vs “deficiency”

These words are commonly seen when with blood-related problems.

-Osis/-philia refers to a predominance of a specific type of cell while -penia refers to the deficiency of a type of cell.


  • Thrombocytosis: Thrombocyte (platelets) + osis (predominance) = elevated platelet count
  • Thrombocytopenia: Thrombocyte (platelets) + penia (deficiency) = platelet deficiency
  • Eosinophilia: Eosinophils + philia (predominance) = predominance of eosinophils

Pan-: “all”

The affix pan- is added to words when you want to indicate that it affects the whole group of tissue/cells/etc.


  • Pancarditis: Pan (all) + cardio (heart) + itis (inflammation) = Inflammation of the whole heart
  • Pancytopenia: Pan (all) + cyto (cells) + penia (deficiency) = Deficiency in all three hematologic cell lines

-lysis: “cut/break down”

This is also commonly used in pathology and physiology. This basically means “to cut”, but it can also mean “breaking down”.


  • Glycolysis: Glyco (glucose) + lysis (breakdown) = Breakdown of glucose to release energy
  • Hemolysis: Hemo (blood, usually red blood cells (RBCs)) + lysis (breakdown) = Destruction of RBCs


Sub-/infra- vs super-/supra-/epi-: “below/bottom” vs “top/above”

In the medical field, we don’t simply say “up” or down” because a person can be positioned in many ways. So to avoid any confusion, we always use a standard anatomical position. Instead, we use locations in relation to certain organs, regions, and other parts of the body which are usually referenced by the root word.

Sub-/infra- mean under or below while super-/supra-/epi- mean above or on top.


  • Subscapular: Sub (below) + scapular (scapula) = below the scapula
  • Epidermis: Epi (on top) + dermis (skin) = topmost layer of the skin
  • Infracostal: Infra (below) + costal (ribs) = region located below each rib
  • Supratentorial: Supra (above) + tentorial (tentorium) = region above the tentorium of the brain

Pre- vs post-: “before/front” vs “after/behind”

Pre- and post- can pertain to location and time. But both can simply be translated to before and after, respectively.


  • Preauricular: Pre (before) + auricular (ear) = area located before/at the front of the ear
  • Post-operative: Post (after) + operative = the time period right after an operation or procedure

Hypo- vs hyper-: “below/deficient” vs “above/excess”

When we talk about location, hypo- means below while hyper- means above. However, they can also mean deficient and excess when talking about quantity.


  • Hyperthyroidism: Hyper (excess) + thyroid = Disease involving an excess of thyroid hormones in the body
  • Hypogastric: Hypo (below) + gastric (stomach) = Location at the lower part of the abdomen, located below the stomach

Peri-: “periphery”

If you know the word, peripheral, then you know the meaning of “peri-”. It means it’s located around a certain area usually indicated by the root word.


  • Periumbilical: Peri (around) + umbilical (umbilicus) = Location somewhere around the umbilicus
  • Perianal: Peri (around) + anal (anus) = Location somewhere around the anus

Endo- vs exo-/extra-/ecto-: “inside/inner” vs “outside/outer”

Endo- means inside while exo- means outside.


  • Endometrium: Endo (inner) + metrium (womb) = inner lining of the uterus
  • Exotropia: Exo (outwards) + tropia (turn) = eye gaze deviates outwards


-otomy/-tomy vs -ectomy: “to cut” vs “to remove”

These suffixes are often (erroneously) used interchangeably, but there’s a huge difference. -Otomy or -tomy procedures involve cutting a part of the body. Meanwhile, -ectomies involve removing a part of the body entirely. This difference is crucial because you don’t want to end up removing something you’re not supposed to.


  • Gastrotomy: Gastro (stomach) + otomy (cut) = Procedure that involves cutting the stomach
  • Gastrectomy: Gastro (stomach) + ectomy (remove) = Procedure that involves removing a part or the whole stomach

-scopy: uses a scope

This is pretty self-explanatory: it involves the use of a scope.


  • Laparoscopy: Laparo (abdominal wall) + scopy (scope) = Procedure that uses a scope to examine the abdominal wall
  • Hysteroscopy: Hystero (uterus) + scopy (scope) = Procedure that uses a scope to examine the uterus

-centesis: “to puncture/perforate”

When you see this suffix, you think about puncturing or perforating something, usually indicated by the root word.


  • Thoracocentesis: Thoraco (thorax) + centesis (puncture) = Procedure puncturing the thorax, usually to drain fluid
  • Amniocentesis: Amnio (amniotic sac/fluid) + centesis (puncture) = Puncture wherein the amniotic sac is punctured to extract a sample of amniotic fluid to diagnose various genetic disorders in a fetus

-plasty: “to mold/reform/form”

These procedures involve molding or forming a part of the body. This also includes grafting.


  • Rhinoplasty: Rhino (nose) + plasty (molding/forming) = Procedure that reforms the shape of the nose
  • Angioplasty: Angio (vessel) + plasty (molding/forming) = Procedure that re-forms a blood vessel, usually in cases of blocked arteries and uses a stent or balloon

-rrhaphy: “to suture/repair”

This suffix refers to procedures that involve suturing and repair.


  • Episiorrhaphy: Episio (pubic region) + rrhaphy (suture) = Procedure that involves the repair of the vulva usually following an episiotomy during childbirth
  • Herniorrhaphy: Hernio (hernia) + rrhaphy (suture) = Procedure that involves the repair of a hernia

Specialty Root Words

Onco-: “cancer”

For most things related to tumors and cancers, we use “onco-.”


  • Oncology: Onco (cancers) + ology (study) = the study of cancers
  • Oncogenic: Onco (cancer) + genic (cause) = caused by a cancer

Cardio-: “heart”

When referring to the heart and related physiology, we use “cardio.”


  • Cardiology: Cardio (heart) + ology (study) = study of the heart
  • Cardiogenic shock: Cardio (heart) + genic (cause) + shock = Shock caused by a dysfunction of the heart

Pulmo-/pneumo-: “lungs”

For things related to our lungs, we use “pulmo-.” Pneumo- can refer to air as well as lungs.


  • Pulmonology: Pulmo (lungs) + ology (study) = Study of the heart
  • Pulmonitis: Pulmo (lungs) + itis (inflammation) = Inflammation of the lungs (whether it’s infectious or not)

Derma-: “skin”

This refers to everything related to the body’s largest organ, the skin.


  • Dermatology: Derma (skin) + ology (study) = Study of the skin
  • Hypodermis: Hypo (bottom) + dermis (skin) = bottom-most layer of the skin

Patho-: “disease”

For anything related to disease, we use “patho-.”


  • Pathology: Patho (disease) + ology (study) = Study of diseases and diagnosing them
  • Pathophysiology:Patho (disease/disorder) + physio (normal functions) + ology (study) = Study of disordered functions of the body

Nephro-: “kidney”

For subjects that involve the kidneys and their related functions, we use, “nephro-.”


  • Nephrology: Nephro (kidneys) + ology (study) = Study of the kidneys
  • Hydronephrosis: Hydro (water/fluid) + Nephro (kidneys) + osis (disease) = Disease related to the build-up of fluid (urine) in the kidneys

Gyne-: “diseases of women”

In the Greek origin of the word, it means “woman.” However, in medical terms, when we talk about gyne cases, it refers to diseases that affect women, especially those of their reproductive parts.


  • Gynecology: Gyne (women) + ology (study) = Study of women’s diseases
  • Androgynous: Andro (man) + gyne (woman) = Persons who have characteristics or nature of both stereotypical male and female; can include hermaphrodites

Osteo-/ortho: “musculoskeletal”

Osteo- refers to anything to do with the bones, sometimes also involving the muscles. Meanwhile, even though ortho- means straight, it also relates to the study of musculoskeletal cases.


  • Orthopedics: Ortho (musculoskeletal system) + pedics (children) = Study of musculoskeletal deformities in children. This was the original meaning of orthopedics, but it has since extended the field to all ages as long as it’s relate to the study of musculoskeletal conditions
  • Osteopathy: Osteo (bone) + pathy (disease) = A field focused on treating disorders related to musculoskeletal problems through manipulation and massage techniques

Uro-/-uria: “urinary tract”

This usually refers to the urinary tract, this includes the kidneys going all the way down past the urethra where urine is expelled. Conditions related to urine sometimes end in -uria.


  • Urology: Uro (urinary tract) + ology (study) = Study of the urinary tract
  • Hematuria: Hema (blood) + uria (urine) = Blood in the urine

Neuro-: “nervous system”

Neuro- sounds like it deals with neurons, but it’s more than that. It deals with the nervous system as a whole, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system.


  • Neurology: Neuro (nervous system) + ology (study) = Study of the nervous system
  • Neurogenic: Neuro (nervous system) + genic (cause) = Diseases caused by dysfunctions in the nervous system

Radio-: “imaging studies”

This term refers to the use of imaging technologies. Contrary to the name, this can also include non-radioactive imaging studies.


  • Radiology: Radio + ology (study) = Study of the use of imaging technology for diagnosing and treating diseases
  • Radiograph: Radio + graph (writing/picture) = Picture produced by a form of radiation apart from visible light

Hema-/-emia: “blood”

This term refers to all things blood.

When you see the word “hema” or a word ending in “-emia,” you think about not just RBCs but WBCs and platelets.


  • Hematology: Hema (blood) + ology (study) = Study of blood
  • Anemia: A (none) + emia (blood) = Diseases involving reduced hemoglobin or hemoglobin abnormalities

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