We love to use fancy names and terms in medicine; it makes us feel smart. But the truth is, the terminology is not actually all that complicated. Knowing a few key medical terms can help you understand any medical-ese that you may encounter. Keep in mind, however, if your doctor ever uses a term that you aren’t familiar with, make sure and ask for further explanation. Never be embarrassed to speak up.
- Erythematous [er″ĭ-them´ah-tus]—Simply means red. Often used in the context of describing something on the skin.
- Lesion [lē’zhŭn]—A change in the body’s tissue from baseline normal, usually referring to a wound, injury, tumor, etc.
- Acute—Comes on suddenly and lasts a short time (it’s the opposite of chronic).
- Benign—Not causing death or serious injury, not cancerous. Sometimes used in other contexts to imply, “nothing to worry about.” (It’s the opposite of malignant, which is cancerous).
- Febrile—Having a fever (by pediatric standards, greater than 100.4 F/38 C).
- Inflammation—The process the body goes through to try and fix itself (usually resulting from infection or trauma). Something is inflamed if it is hot, red, swollen, painful.
- Fracture—Break of a bone.
- Apnea—Stopping breathing.
- Cardiac—Relating to the heart
- Congenital—Born with
Also keep in mind that knowing the root and suffix of most words will help you decode a lot of medical terms that you may encounter. For example:
- Rhine—Means nose
- “-itis”—Means inflammation
So when your doc says your kid has “allergic rhinitis,” you’ll know that is a fancy term for an inflamed nose due to allergies.
Let’s try another:
- Derm—Means skin
- “—ologist”—Means the person who has knowledge of particular kind of science (often used to distinguish a medical specialist)
So a dermatologist is a skin doctor. By the same combination ability, a “contact dermatitis” is inflammation of the skin caused by contact with something. I think you’ve got the gist.
So try it out, the next time you’re at a dinner party and you run into a chair that leaves a red spot on your leg. Just comment on the “erythematous lesion” that you now have. The guests will be so impressed that they won’t notice that you ran into the chair!