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Basic Medical Terminologies

Medical science has made a tremendous progress over many decades. The development has been rapid and incredible. To quote Hippocrates, “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” Medicine indeed is an important subset of the modern Medical Science and involves a lot of complex research and terminologies.

The medicinal language bears its adaption from Greek and Latin. The broader is your vocabulary base, the more credible you will be to the rest of the medical community and better medical assistance you can provide to a patient . To fully understand the terminology , it is essential to break it down into 3 parts – prefix , suffix and the root word.

In the ensuing list , we seek to present some of the most important and commonly used medical terminologies for your perusal as it is a must to know these terms for having a functioning knowledge of the same.


A prefix is the initial letters of a word and ostensibly refers to a location and severity. Prefixes are used in the the daily communications (i.e., inaction, automatic, misplace), as well as in medical and scientific parlance. Not every medical term has a prefix.


Suffix are placed at the end of a word to give it a full meaning. In the medical context , a suffix generally signifies a disease , a procedure or a condition. One of the most commonly used terms in medicine is -itis , which typically means an ‘inflammation’ e.g: conjunctivitis , sinusitis , otitis media etc. When it is attached to arthro , which means joints , it collectively means an inflammation of joints.

Root Words

It is a word or part of a word that can work as the genesis of new words through the inclusion of prefixes and suffixes. If you can understand the meanings of common roots , it can help you find out the meanings of new words as you come across one. It is known to indicate the essential meaning of the word and historically represented a part of the human body. One such example to be cited is CPR , which stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. On dissecting this word , we get cardio which means ‘heart’ , pulmonary which means ‘lungs’. When air is filled into the lungs and the heart is pushed to circulate the blood to resuscitate the patient.

List of Medical Prefix

Prefix             Meaning                    
ante- refers to before or forward
anti- refers to against or opposed to something
arteri(o)- refers to artery
arthro-that hints to a joint in human body
auto- refers to self , regarding self
bi-refers to two ,denoting two
bi(o)- refers to life
blast(o)-refers to a germ or cell
blephar(o)-Denotes to an eyelid
brady- refers to being slow
calc- refers to stone ; and also heel(foot)
cardi(o)- related to the heart
cephal(o)-refers to the head
cerebr(o)-signifies to the cerebrum, which is a part of the brain
cervic(o)-refers to the neck (uterine cervix) of the body
chole-referring to bile
chondr(o)-denotes cartilage
circum- refers to around
cost(o)- refers to a rib
cyan(o)- refers to blue colour
cyst(o)-refers to bladder or fluid containing sac
inter-represents between
cyt(o)-denoting a cell
intra-meaning within
de-refers to down from
dermat(o)-denotes the skin
di-        refers to twice or double
leuk(o)-        signifies something white or to leukocytes (white blood cells)
dia-    refers to through or completely    
lith(o)-  denoting a stone
dys- refers to painful or abnormal
macro-  signifying something large
mal- refers to something bad or abnormal
electro-                refers to electricity or involving it
medi-    Meaning to be middle
end(o)-     signifies something within       
mega- referring to something large
enter(o)- denoting to the intestines
melan- which means black or dark
epi-                                           referring to upon
mening(o)- signifies to a membrane (meninges)
erythr(o)-referring to anything red like erythrocytes (Red Blood Cells)
micro- denoting to small
eu-           signifying something easy or normal     
mono-  denoting to one
ex(o)-   meaning to be outside 
my(o)- that which refers to muscle
gastr(o)- signifying the stomach
nas(o)- denoting the nose
glyc(o)-     meaning sugar (glycemia etc) 
ne(o)-   refers to something new
gynec(o)- denoting females or the female reproductive organs
nephr(o)- signifying the kidney
hemat(o)- denoting blood (also hem)   
neur(o)- referring to any nerve or the nervous system
hemi-     meaning half     
noct-     signifying night 
hepat(o)- signifying the liver
heter-               meaning which is other or different  
ophthalm(o)- denoting the eye
hom-              meaning same or like (homeostasis)  
hydr(o)- referring to water
hyper-  meaning to be over, excessive 
hypo-                    meaning to be under or deficient
ortho-   something straight or upright
hyster(o)- referring to the uterus
oste(o)-               denoting to the bone
infra-  meaning to be below    
ot(o)-    representing the ear

List of Medical Suffixes

-algia     referring to pain in body
-asthen(o)  denoting to a weakness
-blast    referring to a not yet mature cell
-cele       signifying a tumor or swelling
-centesis         denoting a procedure in which an organ / body cavity is punctured, mostly to drain excess fluid or obtain a sample for testing
-cyte      meaning a cell
-ectomy   referring to a surgical removal of something
-emia    referring to presence of a substance in the blood
-genic    refers to causing / a genesis
-gram    signifying a record
-graph   refers to an instrument used to create the record
-itis         signifying an inflammation
-lysis    that which means a certain decline, that which means a certain decline, or destruction
-megaly                  refers to an enlargement of something
-ology   meaning a science of
-oma     refers to a certain tumor
-osis       denoting to a certain disease process
-ostomy  surgical opening of any part , surgical opening of any part ,or hole
-otomy meaning a surgical incision
-pathy   refers to a disease or a system for treating disease
-phagia  denoting to eating or swallowing function
-phasia              referring to speech or related to it   
-rrhage            abnormal or excess flow or discharge  
-sis         a process, action, or condition
-phobia    pertaining to an irrational fear
-rrhagia a       bnormal or excessive flow or discharge
-plasty            meaning a plastic surgery  
-plegia     referring to a paralysis
-rrhea   referring to a flow or discharge 
-uria       meaning a substance in the urine or the condition
-pnea    referring to breathing   
-scope  an instrument for examination 
-scopy   meaning examination with an instrument

List of Medical Root Words

Root Word          Meaning             
acou-                referring to hear function
gest-      referring to carry, produce, congestion
adip-      referring to fat 
carpus       signifying to the wrist 
gno-       referring to know
alb-    signifying to white color
alges-    referring to pain
andr-    signifying to male gender
aqua-    referring to water asphyxia denoting lack of oxygen or excess of carbon dioxide  in the body that results in unconsciousness
asthen- referring to weak
audi-      denoting to hear
bronch-  referring to windpipe
bucc-     denoting to the cheek
carcin-   signifying to cancer
cent-     a fraction in metric system; one hundredth or 100
cente-   refers to puncture (a body cavity)
cili-         signifying to eyelid
cleid(o)- referring to clavicle cubitus referring to elbow
cycl-       denoting to a circle or cycle
digit       meaning a finger or toe
ede-      representing a swelling
-esthesi(o)-        referring  to sensation or perception
febr-    signifying a fever
flex        signifying a bend foramen referring to an opening
fract-    denoting to a break
-gram    meaning something written or recorded
idi-          meaning to separate or make distinct
iod(o)-  signifying Iodine(a chemical)
lact-       referring to milk
lingu-    meaning tongue
men-     referring to month
ocul-      signifying the eye
ov-         referring to an egg
ped-      signifying a child or foot


These are some of the most commonly used medical terminologies which can act as a ready reckoner for those who wish to get a grasp on them. Using Mnemonics or flash cards can help in easy revision of the above besides daily practice.