Basic Medical Terms You Should Know

While attending an appointment with a physician, often, it is difficult to understand exactly what information the doctor is trying to relay. Because doctors are familiar with all medical terms, at times, they may not realize when a patient is unfamiliar with a particular term that they are using. Of course, patients should always feel free to ask their doctor about any terms or language that they do not understand, but it can be embarrassing or confusing for many to continue asking for clarification. Not fully understanding a doctor's orders or a specific condition can lead to a lot of unnecessary frustration or worry. To avoid this confusion, people should do their best to familiarize themselves with basic medical terms. Not only will this allow them to understand their doctors, but to more effectively communicate their concerns to the doctor as well. By understanding these basic medical terms, patients are able to take control over their health care in a way that they would otherwise be unable to do.

Abrasion: An abrasion is a cut or a scrape. It is generally not a serious injury.

Abscess: When a doctor says that a person has an abscess, they are referring to a collection of pus within a part of the body. The area is often red and inflamed, and this can be caused by a number of conditions. One of the most common types of abscess is an abscessed tooth, which should be treated by a dental professional.

Analgesic: An analgesic refers to a type of medication. Analgesics are often available without prescriptions, and they work to treat pain, although they do not treat inflammation as ibuprofen does. A common form of analgesic is acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the main ingredient in Tylenol.

Anemia: Anemia is a condition in which a person has low iron amounts in their blood.

Angina: Angina is a term that refers to a tightness or squeezing sensation in the chest. The symptoms of angina are close to those of a heart attack, although it is not the same condition.

Anti-Inflammatory: "Anti-inflammatory" generally refers to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs). They are available over the counter and work to reduce the amount of inflammation in the body to relive pain. A popular NSAID is ibuprofen.

Anti-Viral: An anti-viral drug is much different than antibiotic or anti-bacterial medications. These drugs are specifically designed to attack a virus.

Benign: "Benign" is often used in situations where a tumor was suspected to be cancerous. Benign means that the tumor or mass is non-cancerous.

Biopsy: A biopsy is a medical procedure that is performed to remove and test a small sample of tissue, skin, or other cells. It is often performed when cancer is suspected.

Blood Pressure: Blood pressure is the strength of blood pushing against your blood vessels as it flows through the body.

Body Mass Index (BMI): A person's Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a way of determining how much a person should weigh. The BMI is calculated by using a person's height, gender, and weight to determine their ideal weight.

Calories: A calorie is a unit of energy; this term is most often used in relation to food.

Catheter: A catheter is a tube inserted into the body for removing fluid, typically urine.

CAT (or CT) Scan: A medical test that takes pictures of the inside of the body.

Chronic: When a condition is chronic, it means that it is recurring and consistent.

Compression: Compression is a technique in which an injury is wrapped to reduce the amount of swelling.

Contusions: Contusions are another way of saying bumps and bruises.

Culture: A culture is a test that is performed on urine, saliva, or other body substances to determine if a particular virus or bacteria is present in the body.

Chief Complaint: A chief complaint is the patient's main reason for visiting a doctor.

D&C (Dilation and Curettage): This procedure is performed in the field of gynecology and consists of removing tissue or masses from the uterus.

Edema: This is a swelling caused by excessive fluid buildup in the body.

Embolism: An embolism is another way of saying "blood clot."

Extremities: Extremities refer to a person's arms and legs.

Febrile: The term "febrile" is used when a fever is involved.

Fracture: A fracture is a crack or break in a bone.

Hypertension: Hypertension is simply another way of saying high blood pressure.

ICU: ICU is an abbreviation that stands for Intensive Care Unit. People in an ICU are in very serious condition.

Inflammation: Inflammation is redness or swelling.

Influenza: Influenza is a virus that is most commonly called the flu.

Intravenous (IV): Intravenous means that something is inserted directly into a vein, rather than being given orally.

IU (International Units): International units are a way of measuring a medication instead of in milligrams.

Kilogram: This metric unit of measurement is often used to describe a person's weight.

Lesion: A lesion is another way of saying an abnormal spot on tissue or skin.

Malignant: Malignant means cancerous.

Non-Invasive: This term is used to describe simple medical procedures, such as ultrasounds or X-rays, that do not require surgery.

NSAID: NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Obese: "Obese" means that a person has a body mass index that is much too high. This is the highest BMI category.

Over the Counter: Over-the-counter, or OTC, means that the medication is available at any pharmacy without a prescription from a doctor.

Overweight: "Overweight" means that a person weighs more than someone of their height, age, and gender should weigh.

Placebo: A placebo is a pill that does not contain any active medications or ingredients.

Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It has various causes and can be in either one or both lungs.

Polyp: A polyp is any abnormal growth that forms within an organ. Polyps are usually benign but are at risk for eventually becoming cancerous.

Serving Size: The serving size is the amount of a food that is intended to be eaten in one sitting. Nutrition information and labels are based on eating this amount. Eating more than one serving size affects the amount of calories that are consumed in total.

Susceptible: "Susceptible" means that a person is more at risk for getting a disease, infection, or virus.

Sutures: Sutures are stitches.

Terminal: "Terminal" means that something is incurable or fatal.

Tonsillectomy: A tonsillectomy is performed to remove the tonsils when chronic tonsil inflamation is a problem.

Topical: "Topical" means that a medication or cream is to be applied only on the skin or the wound and not to be ingested.

Vertigo: "Vertigo" is another word for dizziness or light-headedness.

Urinalysis: "Urinalysis" means the analysis of urine by physical, chemical, and microscopical means to test for the presence of disease, drugs, etc.

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Burt Cancaster, Author

Vitality Medical
7910 South 3500 East, Suite C
Salt Lake City, UT 84121
(801) 733-4449
[email protected]

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