The Medical Terminology “Cheat Sheet” Every Healthcare Pro Needs [Infographic]

Brachycephalic. Atherosclerosis. Neurofibromatosis.

As you probably already know, the medical field is not home for simple terminology. But don’t let these tongue-twisting polysyllabic behemoths discourage you. Most medical terms follow a naming convention that makes even the completely unfamiliar terms decipherable. All you need to know is where to look.

To help you de-mystify these terms, we created a handy “cheat sheet” that breaks down common medical word roots, suffixes, prefixes and modifiers. 

Medical Terminology Infographic, described in detail below.

Health Sciences Medical Terminology Infographic: The Medical Terminology “Cheat Sheet” Every Healthcare Pro Needs

The subheading reads, “Medical terms have you scratching your head? Your first step is to break it down.” The infographic then provides an example using the word “otorhinolaryngology”. The prefix, “ot/o” is related to the ear, “rhino” is related to the nose, laryng/o is related to the larynx and “logy” is the study of something. One could then deduce that “otorhinolaryngology” is the study of the ear, nose and larynx.

Beneath the example, the texts reads that most medical terms come in two formats. The first is the combining a form of the word root + (optional) combining form of word root + suffix, while the second applies the prefix + combining form of word root + (optional) combining form of root word + suffix.

The text also defines prefix and suffix. A prefix is found before a combining form of a word root and usually will indicate a location, time, number or status of the word root.

A suffix is found after a combining form of a word root and adds to the meaning of the word root. Suffixes usually indicate a procedure, condition, disorder or disease.

The remainder of the infographic is a chart, broken in three sections. The first indicates examples of prefixes, what they mean and the examples.

Prefix Meaning Example
A-, an- Lack of, without, not Analgesic – “without pain”
Dys- Bad, painful, difficult Dysrhythmia – “abnormal physiological rhythm”
Hyper- Above, excessive, beyond Hypertension – “high bloog pressure”
Hyp-, hypo- Below, beneath, deficient Hypoglycemia – “low blood sugar”
Macro- Large Macrocephaly – “large head”
Micro-, micr- Tiny, small Microcephaly – “small head”
Post- After, or following, behind Postoperative – “after a surgical operation”
Pre-, pro- In front of, before, preceding Preoperative – “prior to a surgical operation”
Retro- Behind, backward Retrocardiac – “located behind the heart”

The following chart indicates suffixes, what they mean and the examples.

-ac, -ic, -al, -ous-, -tic Related to or pertaining to Celiac – “relating to the abdomen”
-ent, -er, -ist Person, agent Dentist – “person who works on teeth and gums”
-ism Condition or theory Dysmorphism – “condition of anatomical malformation”
-ectomy Excision, removal Tonsillectomy – “surgical removal of tonsils”
-plasty Surgical repair Rhinoplasty – “surgical repair of the nose”
-itis Inflammation Pancreatitis – “inflammation of the pancreas”
-ologist One who studies, specialist Cardiologist – “one who studies the heart”
-ology Study of, process of study Oncology – “the study of tumors”
-oma Tumor Melanoma – “tumor of melanin-forming cells”
-pathy Disease, disease process Angiopathy – “disease related to blood vessels”
-scopy Process of visual examination Endoscopy – “visual examination within the body”

The last section describes the combining form of the word roots and what they mean.

Combining form of word root Meaning
Dermato/o Skin
Gastr/o Stomach
Nas/o Nose
Opt/o Eye
Pneum/o Air, lung
My/o Muscle
Cardi/o Heart
Arthr/o Joint
Oste/o Bone
Nephr/o Kidney
Mamm/o Breast
Test/o Testis
Gluc/o, glyc/o Sugar
Neur/o Nerve

You’re now equipped with a useful shorthand guide to medical terminology. Bookmark this resource for easy access in the future and pass it along to anyone else you feel may benefit from it!

For more helpful tips and career information, follow Rasmussen College’s Pinterest account, @RasCollege.

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Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen College. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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