Medical Terms – And How To Memorize Them

Surefire way to learn and memorize medical terminology.

Medicine has its own distinctive terminology, and there are mountains of terms. If you are aspiring to pursue a successful career in the medical field, be it a chemist, physician or even a medical transcriber, it is crucial that you get accustomed to all the essential medical terms.

But hey! Let’s admit it. Nobody wants to learn by heart all the terms. So instead of trudging through the medical dictionary amassed with complex medical nomenclature, we will figure a way to build them. And if we follow through this approach with utmost perseverance, who knows it may even help us figure a quicker path to memorizing them.

Medical terminology is all about concoction of rules of medical word building through use of root words, prefixes (words placed in front of another), suffixes (words added at the end) and abbreviations. Here we will explore all the anatomical, physiological, pathological terms, and also the ones associated with diagnostic tests of different systems.

Remember this! To memorize medical terms effectively, you would have to learn to analyze words by separating them into component parts. Also think about the terms associated with the structure and function of the human body, and try to relate them.

Creating words for medical language

If you want to master the language of medicine, you would need to perfect the craft of dividing words into their component parts.

Let’s take the word “Hematology” for example. Hema, meaning blood, is the root, O is the combining vowel, and logy, subject of study, is the suffix. All medical terms have a suffix.

The root is where every word stems from, and all medical terms have one or more of them. O, the combining vowel, attaches the root to the suffix (the word ending), or links to another root. It has no meaning of its own; it just associates one part to the other.

Things to keep in mind:

In order to commit to memory the complex terms even better, try by reading starting from the suffix then go back to the beginning of the term and across.

Refuse the combining vowel, O, before a suffix beginning with a vowel. For example: gastr-itis, not gastr-o-itis.

Keep the combining vowel between two roots. For example: gastr-o-enterology, not gastr-enterology.

Medical terms also commonly accompany two additional parts:

  1. The combining form, which is the combination of root and the combining vowel, usually O.
  2. The prefix, which is a word placed at the beginning of the term. A prefix can greatly influence the meaning of a word. Not all terms come with a prefix.


As we discussed earlier, all medical terms have a suffix. Here are some common suffixes and their meanings.


-algia = pain, or a painful condition


-cele =  hernia, or tumour

-centesis = surgical puncturing of a part of the body to extract fluid

-coccus (plural: cocci) = bacterium of spherical shape

-cyte = cell


-dynia = pain


-ectomy = surgical excision

-emia = blood condition


-genic = relating to (production or generation)

-genesis = condition of producing, or forming,

-gram = record

-graph = instrument for recording

-graphy = process of recording


-itis  = inflammation


-logy = study of

-lysis = breakdown, loosening, decomposition, destruction


-malacia = softening of organ, tissue, such as bone

-megaly = enlargement


-oma = tumor, mass

-opsy = to view

-osis = condition or state, usually abnormal


-pathy = disease condition

-penia = deficiency

-plasia = development, growth, formation

-plasty = surgical repair

-ptosis = falling, prolapse (of an organ)


-rrhea = discharge, flow


-sclerosis = hardening, thickening (of tissue)

-scope = instrument for visual examination

-stasis = not changed or develop, remain the same

-stomy = opening to form a mouth


-therapy = treatment

-tomy = incision, cut into

-trophy = development, nourishment


-er = a person, one who

-ia = condition

-ist = specialist

-ole, -ule = something small, little

-um, -ium = structure, tissue

-us = structure, substance

-oid = resembling, derived from

-ac, -iac, -al, -ar, -ary, -eal, -ic, -ical, -ose, -ous, -tic = pertaining to


Below are some common medical terminology prefixes. Remember that not all medical terms have a prefix. A prefix can have an important influence on the meaning of the word.


a-, an- = no, not, without

ab- = away from

ad- = toward

ana- = up, apart

ante- = before, forward

anti- = against

auto- = self, own


bi- = two

brady- slow


cata- = down

con- = with, together

contra- = against, opposite


de- = down, lack of

dia- = through, complete

dys- = bad, painful, difficult, abnormal


ec- = out, outside

endo- = in, within

epi- = upon, on, above

eu- = good, normal

ex- = out, outside


hemi- =  half

hyper- = excessive, beyond

hypo- = deficient, under


in- = not

in- = into, within

infra- = below, beneath, under

inter- = between

intra- = in, within, into


macro- =  large

mal- =  bad

meta- = beyond change

micro- = small

neo- = new


pan- = all

para- = abnormal, beside, near

per- = through

peri- = surrounding

poly- = many, much

post- = after, behind

pre- = before, in front of 

pro-, pros- = before, forward


re- = back, again

retro- = behind, backward


sub- = under

supra- = above, super

syn-, sym- = together, with


tachy- = fast

trans- = across, through


ultra- = beyond, excess.

uni- = one

Structural organization of the human body

So far, we have explored the common prefixes and suffixes used in medical terminology, and the meanings they are associated with. Now prior to setting our course straight towards sophisticated structures and functions of the human body, let’s have a look at the basic architecture first – the cell

The cell is the smallest structural and functional unit of all organisms. It is present in every living structures of human anatomy. Although there are different types of cells, they all possess similar characteristics and house several similar parts.

The first part is the cell membrane. The cell membrane serves as a shield for the cell, but it also administers what goes in and out of the cell.

Next is the nucleus. The nucleus directs cell division, and regulates the function and the structure of the cell.

Then, the chromosomes. They are thread-like structures in the nucleus. Each human cell has 46 chromosomes made up of 23 pairs. And inside each chromosome, resides several thousand genes which contain a chemical called DNA. DNA provides instruction for cellular activities based on the sequence of chemical units, or bases it provides.

Then the cytoplasm. Cytoplasm is a semifluid material outside of the nucleus but contained within the cell membrane. It also plays a role in controlling cell metabolism.

Next is mitochondria. If high school has taught me anything, it is that “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” They are small organelles with the likeness of a digestive system which intakes nutrients in order to give energy to the cell.

The endoplasmic reticulum is a network of membranes within the cytoplasm of the cell. Here, smaller protein pieces mobilize to form large proteins.

A tissue is a collection of cells having similar structure that work together to perform a particular function. There are four types of tissue – epithelial, muscle, connective, and nerve. Different tissues combine to form an organ. Different organs combine to form systems.

Now let’s come to the terminology related to the anatomical position of the body, and the directional terms that describe the regions of the body. Also terms associated with the planes of the body. The purpose of using these terms is to maximize precision and minimize medical errors.

Directional Terms

Anterior, or ventral:  the front side of the body.

Posterior, or dorsal:  the back side of the body.

Deep:  a position away from the surface of the body.

Superficial:  a position closer to, or on the surface.

Proximal: a position in a limb near the point of attachment to the trunk or near the beginning of the structure.

Distal: a position in a limb far from the point of attachment to the trunk or the beginning of the structure.

Inferior, or caudal: a position below another structure.

Superior, or cranial: a position above another structure.

Medial: relating to or situated in the middle, or near the medial point of the body.

Lateral: situated at or extending to the side of the body.

Positional Terms

Supine: lying on the back, or face up orientation.

Prone: lying on the belly, or face down orientation.

Body Planes

Frontal Plane, or Cornal Plane: The vertical planes that divides the body into anterior or posterior portions.

Sagittal Plane, or Lateral Plane: The plane that divides the body vertically into left and right sides.

Transverse Plane, or Axial Plane: The plane that divides the body horizontally into upper and lower portions.

Now that we have properly acquainted with the terms pertaining to the body as a whole, and the ones associated with the structural organization of the body, we will further venture into various different systems of the body in the next post coming up in a couple of days.


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