Chapter 26: Medspeak: Making Sense of Medical Jargon
|When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean --- neither more nor less.
- Lewis Carroll
Patients often complain that they can never understand anything their doctor says. This usually because doctors use medical jargon --- but you should never get intimidated by this! You just need to remember that such jargon is simply a convenient shorthand which doctors ( and other health care professionals) use to communicate with each other. Since these words are often derived from the classic languages ( Greek and Latin), they may sound unfamiliar and difficult to understand, but if you devote enough time and take enough trouble, you can definitely do so. Remember that its not a secret code which is being used to keep you in the dark! If you have difficulty in understanding medical terms, you can ask your doctor to help you. Nurses, or family members in the medical profession, can also provide guidance. However, the easiest way to go about making sense of the jargon is to sit and decipher it with the help of a medical dictionary and a medical encyclopedia: the effort can prove very worthwhile! Spelling counts, and the first and most important step is to find out the proper medical terms and their spelling. Therefore, ask your physician (or the nurse or assistant) to write these down, as related to your specific case.
The words - or terms - which make up the language of medicine are referred to as the terminology of the medical field, or medical terminology. Like every other language, medical terminology has changed considerably over time, but the majority of the terms are derived from Latin or Greek.
As with all words, most medical terms can be broken down into one or more word parts. Basically, there are four possible parts, and any given medical term may contain one, some or all of these parts:
Medical terms always consist of at least one root, although they may contain more. The root of a word is that part which contains its essential meaning: for example, in the term pericarditis, the root of the word is card, refers to the heart. By adding a prefix or suffix to the root (card), new medical terms are created. For example, lets take the prefix brady, which means slow. If brady is added to the root card, the term bradycard, which roughly means slow heart, is created. Then, if the suffix ia - which means abnormal state - is added to "bradycard", the medical term bradycardia is formed. Thus, the translation of bradycardia (brady-card-ia) is: slow - heart - abnormal state, or the abnormal state of a slow heart rate.