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.

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.

PrefixMeaningExample
A-, an-Lack of, without, notAnalgesic ‚Äì “without pain”
Dys-Bad, painful, difficultDysrhythmia ‚Äì “abnormal physiological rhythm”
Hyper-Above, excessive, beyondHypertension ‚Äì “high bloog pressure”
Hyp-, hypo-Below, beneath, deficientHypoglycemia ‚Äì “low blood sugar”
Macro-LargeMacrocephaly ‚Äì “large head”
Micro-, micr-Tiny, smallMicrocephaly ‚Äì “small head”
Post-After, or following, behindPostoperative ‚Äì “after a surgical operation”
Pre-, pro-In front of, before, precedingPreoperative ‚Äì “prior to a surgical operation”
Retro-Behind, backwardRetrocardiac ‚Äì “located behind the heart”

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

SuffixMeaningExample
-ac, -ic, -al, -ous-, -tic Related to or pertaining toCeliac ‚Äì “relating to the abdomen”
-ent, -er, -istPerson, agentDentist ‚Äì “person who works on teeth and gums”
-ismCondition or theoryDysmorphism ‚Äì “condition of anatomical malformation”
-ectomyExcision, removalTonsillectomy ‚Äì “surgical removal of tonsils”
-plastySurgical repairRhinoplasty ‚Äì “surgical repair of the nose”
-itisInflammationPancreatitis ‚Äì “inflammation of the pancreas”
-ologistOne who studies, specialistCardiologist ‚Äì “one who studies the heart”
-ologyStudy of, process of studyOncology ‚Äì “the study of tumors”
-omaTumorMelanoma ‚Äì “tumor of melanin-forming cells”
-pathyDisease, disease processAngiopathy ‚Äì “disease related to blood vessels”
-scopyProcess of visual examinationEndoscopy ‚Äì “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/oSkin
Gastr/oStomach
Nas/oNose
Opt/oEye
Pneum/oAir, lung
My/oMuscle
Cardi/oHeart
Arthr/oJoint
Oste/oBone
Nephr/oKidney
Mamm/oBreast
Test/oTestis
Gluc/o, glyc/oSugar
Neur/oNerve

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!

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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 University. 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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