Tips For Learning Basic Medical Terminology the Easiest Way

Medical Terminology That May Confuse Patients

If you have ever visited a doctor’s appointment and left feeling more confused than before, you are not alone. Does your doctor use words you do not understand? Feel like you need to show up with a medical dictionary every time you visit the clinic? Most people or patients find medical terminology confusing.

We have all been there – sitting at the doctor’s office, confused as to what the words before us mean. Your doctor explains a troubling test result while you sit on the exam table. You listen intently to his words, but you have no clue what he is saying. It is like trying to read the agreement of a new product you just purchased, but you cannot make heads or tails of it, so you throw in the towel and just click the “I accept” button.

All Essential Medical Terms in One Place

Medical terminology, though, often difficult to understand for an untrained ear, follows the same structural rules all language does, including use of prefixes and suffixes. You may be familiar with some of these from words outside the realm of medicine.

Some medical root words are intuitive simply based on your experiences. If you are an athletic person, for example, you probably know cardiovascular exercise is any activity that gets your heart rate pumping.

When in Doubt, Ask For Clarity

This medical terminology cheat sheet below covers a lot of ground, but there will likely be times when you hear something unfamiliar. When you come across a medical term you do not recognize, be sure to ask for clarity.

Clearly you can benefit from having these medical terms at your disposal when you come face-to-face with a physician or medical professional. So, the next time you visit the clinic or hospital, you will know the difference between chronic and acute, and you won’t confuse negative with palliative.

The truth is that learning medical terminology is not an impossible feat — most people simply have the wrong approach. The good news is that by using the most effective memorization techniques and using proven resources such as the one below, you can easily turn learning into an effortless, even pleasant, task.

Identifying Word Parts in Medical Terms

Understanding the structure of medical terms allows you to see the word parts and    leverage an ever-increasing familiarity with them. This is an expedient way to get a handle on medical language.  

Consider the word hemorrhage, for instance. You know the meaning of the term, but you probably never noticed the word parts. Can you see the structure now? If not, look for an “o.” Not all medical terms have a combining “o” but when they do, it is an obvious demarcation of structure.

The “o” in hemorrhage divides the term in two: hem + o + rrhage. You may recognize “hem” or guess that it means “blood” and you would be correct. -rrhage is likely new to you. It means “burst” or “rupture” as in a dam breaking, and conveys excessive bleeding or fluid loss resulting from a damaged blood vessel.

First, understanding the structure in this one term gives you a head start on words like rhin-o-rrhage, spleen-o-rrhage, ot-o-rrhage, and hepat-o-rrage. And once you learn the root words in these four terms — nose, spleen, ear, and liver respectively — you can expand your medical vocabulary in four directions.

Medical terms are developed by arranging and combining word forms:

  • Prefixes – The beginning of words
  • Suffixes – The end of words
  • Root – Middle of words
  • Abbreviations – Usually just letters

Combining words that refer to body parts and medical actions.

This terminology worksheet will help you understand as much as you want or need to know. So, Go Ahead! Take a Whack at it!! Fill in the Abbreviations or Meanings of the Word in this Section.

Root Words

The main part of stem or word. All medical words have one or more root words.

Match the following body part root words with their meaning

Match these root terms with their meaning


A word element located at the beginning of a word. In medical terminology it usually means some number, time, position, direction, or amount of.


The ending of a word. In medical terminology there are more suffixes than prefixes. Suffixes can indicate a procedure (-ectomy means excision of), a condition or symptom (-it is means inflammation or injection of), a type of equipment (-ograph means instrument for recording). It can also define a body function (-phagia means eating or swallowing) or a feeling (-phobia means fear of).

Match the suffixes with their meaning.

Finally, do not feel shy or afraid to ask your physicians or nurses questions. The staff at your doctor’s office or clinic is well prepared and strives to ensure that you are not left confused about your health. If you are unclear about a term they are using, ask them to break the word down with you.

Next time you hear one of these terms—whether on TV show, in a medical environment, or elsewhere—you won’t miss a beat. Just beware, you may be asked to translate for others😊



Solari is an author and a content writer for ifocurs, the most-advanced digital media platform for the most diverse, most online, and most socially engaged audience in modern times. When she is not working, she enjoys travel adventures, photography, and reading literary masterpieces. She is an influencer marketing consultant; a keynote speaker, mom, and writer.

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