A Beginner’s Guide to Medical Terminology: Decoding the Secret Language of Healthcare

Medical terminology is a specialized language used in the healthcare industry. It is composed of various prefixes, suffixes, root words, and combining forms that are used to describe medical conditions, treatments, and procedures. Understanding medical terminology is essential for healthcare professionals and patients alike, as it enables clear communication and ensures accurate diagnoses and treatments.

In this guide, we will take a closer look at the basics of medical terminology, including its structure, common prefixes and suffixes, and medical abbreviations.

The Structure of Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is made up of several components, including prefixes, suffixes, root words, and combining forms.


Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word to modify its meaning. Some common medical prefixes include:

  • Anti-: against
  • Bi-: two
  • Dys-: difficult or painful
  • Hyper-: excessive or above normal
  • Hypo-: below normal
  • Intra-: within
  • Micro-: small
  • Macro-: large
  • Post-: after
  • Pre-: before


Suffixes are added to the end of a word to modify its meaning. Some common medical suffixes include:

  • -itis: inflammation
  • -ectomy: removal
  • -osis: abnormal condition
  • -oma: tumor
  • -algia: pain
  • -logy: study of
  • -pathy: disease
  • -emia: blood condition

Root Words

Root words are the foundation of medical terminology. They provide the basic meaning of a word and are often derived from Latin or Greek. Some common medical root words include:

  • Cardi-: heart
  • Derm-: skin
  • Gastro-: stomach
  • Hemat-: blood
  • Neuro-: nerve
  • Osteo-: bone
  • Pulmon-: lung
  • Ren-: kidney

Combining Forms

Combining forms are created when a root word is combined with a vowel. They are used to connect two root words or a root word and a suffix. Some common combining forms include:

  • Cardi/o: heart
  • Derm/o: skin
  • Gastro/o: stomach
  • Hemat/o: blood
  • Neuro/o: nerve
  • Oste/o: bone
  • Pulmon/o: lung
  • Ren/o: kidney

Common Medical Abbreviations

In addition to prefixes, suffixes, root words, and combining forms, medical terminology also includes numerous abbreviations. These abbreviations are used to save time and space in medical records and are often standardized across healthcare organizations. Here are some common medical abbreviations you may encounter:

  • BPM: beats per minute
  • CBC: complete blood count
  • CT: computed tomography
  • ECG: electrocardiogram
  • Hx: history
  • ICU: intensive care unit
  • IM: intramuscular
  • IV: intravenous
  • MRI: magnetic resonance imaging
  • Rx: prescription

It’s important to note that while these abbreviations are widely used in the healthcare industry, they can also be confusing and even dangerous if misunderstood. As a patient, it’s always a good idea to ask your healthcare provider to explain any medical terminology or abbreviations you don’t understand while providing medical translation services.


Why is medical terminology important?

Medical terminology is important for healthcare professionals because it enables clear and precise communication. Medical terminology ensures that diagnoses, treatments, and procedures are accurately documented and communicated across different healthcare providers. For patients, understanding medical terminology can help them better understand their health conditions and treatments.

Can I learn medical terminology on my own?

Yes, anyone can learn medical terminology with the right resources and practice. There are numerous online courses, textbooks, and resources available for those interested in learning medical terminology.

What are some common medical terminology mistakes to avoid?

Some common medical terminology mistakes to avoid include using the wrong prefix or suffix, misspelling words, and misusing medical abbreviations. It’s important to always double-check your work and consult with a healthcare professional if you’re unsure about the meaning of a term.


Medical terminology can seem intimidating at first, but with practice and patience, anyone can learn to understand and use it effectively. By mastering the basics of medical terminology, you can gain a better understanding of healthcare and improve communication with healthcare professionals. So why not take the first step today and start learning this secret language of healthcare?