Video: Anatomical terminology for healthcare professionals | Episode 2 | Dissecting words
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Ever seen a medical term that is so terrifying that you feel like a fuzz-ugly grizzly bear is staring you right back in your face, feeling horror at the thought of even pronouncing it, let alone un... Read more
Ever seen a medical term that is so terrifying that you feel like a fuzz-ugly grizzly bear is staring you right back in your face, feeling horror at the thought of even pronouncing it, let alone understanding it? Well, you shouldn't be. The 'bear' beyond this term is actually about as terrifying as this 'adowable' teddy bear, once you find out what he's about.
So often we find ourselves caught in a standstill dealing with overly complicated, tongue-twisting medical terminology. However, over the course of this information-packed series on anatomical terminology, we're going to be helping you to break the fear of falling into terminological paralysis by mastering the language of each and every system of the human body, teaching you that no matter how strange or complicated an anatomical term may appear at first, it can be conquered by breaking it down into simple component parts.
So welcome to the second episode of the Kenhub series, Anatomical Terminology for Healthcare Professionals.
I'm sure you've heard that learning anatomy is often coupled with the practice of human dissection. Well, let me give you your first tip in mastering anatomical terminology. Anatomical terminology also involves its own type of dissection – a dissection of words, though. Trust me, learning how to break down anatomical terminology is a great strategy for any healthcare professional and is guaranteed to reduce complex and unmanageable terms in more reasonable parts, removing the verbal obstacles faced by newcomers in the field. In practical terms, this means taking advantage of the following fact: Most anatomical terms are formed using two or three main word parts or components. These are prefixes, roots, and suffixes – and these elements retain their original or same meaning regardless of where they appear.
Let's look at these different types of word elements.
First up, we have the root of a term, which is the basic unit of a medical or anatomical term. For example, 'gastr/o', with or without the O at the end, which comes from the Greek word for belly or stomach, 'gaster'. It refers to the primary structure or body system that the term is related to.
The suffix is added after the root to change or add to its meaning. For example, the suffix, '-pagus', refers to condition resulting in conjoined twins, and if we add this to our root word, we get gastropagus – conjoined twins who are united at the stomach or abdomen.
The prefix is a word part added before the root to give additional detail or modification. Let's take the example 'hypo-' meaning under or below. We can add it to our previous term to then get hypogastropagus – twins conjoined at the hypogastrium or below the stomach.
As I mentioned, the root of an anatomical term refers to its related body system. So as we work through our series system by system, we will be giving you particular focus to these types of word elements. Prefixes and suffixes, however, across all system lines in that they can generally be used in connection with all types of body structures, disorders, and processes, and it's these types of word elements which we will be giving you an overview of today.
Let’s begin with some common suffixes used in anatomical terminology which are especially important in clinical practice as they often describe what is happening or being done to the root word in question.
One of the most common types of suffixes are those which refer to a medical condition or disease. For terms ending with '-ia' such as pneumonia, which essentially means inflammation of the lungs; '-ism' as in hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid; '-sis' like in osteoporosis, which is a condition resulting in reduced bone density – and remember that 'osteo' means bone and 'poros' means pore; '-itis' or 'i-t-i-s' like in peritonitis which is the inflammation of the peritoneum. Or even just like the letter '-y', for example, syndactyly, which is the union of two or more digits; 'syn-' meaning united, 'daktulos' meaning digit.
We also use suffixes to denote specialties, or fields of interest, in almost every healthcare discipline such as '-iatrics' or '-iatry' – a pair of interesting suffixes both derived from the Greek 'iatros' meaning doctor or healer, and therefore, refers to a field of medical treatment like pediatrics or psychiatry.
Another commonly seen suffix which I'm sure you're aware of is '-logy' or 'l-o-g-y', meaning 'the study of' something. For example, cardiology, the study of the heart, and 'kardia' meaning heart in Greek. If we take this a step further, we can also derive the names of specialists in these fields by adding the suffix '-ian' or '-ist', as in pediatrician, psychiatrist, or cardiologist.
Suffixes can also simply be used to indicate something is related to or belongs to an anatomical structure or condition. For example, terms ending in '-ac' as in cardiac, '-al' as in arterial, '-ar' as in muscular, '-ary' as in pulmonary, or '-ile' as in febrile – 'febris' meaning fever in Greek. We also have '-ical' as in surgical – and all of these mean 'pertaining to' in some way or another.
Let's move on now to some common prefixes used in anatomical terminology. These are generally used to provide additional description to the root-suffix combination – meaning they work to tell us more about what's present or what's going on. Let's look at some examples.
First up are prefixes which provide numerical detail such as 'prim-' or 'prim/i-' meaning first as in primipara – a woman who has given birth once; 'mono-' or 'uni-' which means one, an example of this is unilateral, which means occurring on one side only; 'semi-' or 'hemi-' referring to half or one side of something as we have in hemiazygos or semilunar; 'bi-' or 'di-' meaning two as we use in muscles such as digastric, a muscle with two bellies; 'tri-' for three; 'quadri-' for four, an example of this is the quadriceps, a muscle with four heads; and 'multi-' or 'poly-' for many as we have in multinucleated, which is a cell with two or more nuclei.
Prefixes can also denote the appearance of something, for example, its color. 'Cyan/o-' denoting the color blue as we have in cyanosis which is a bluish discoloration of skin due to poor circulation or oxygenation of blood; or 'erythr/o-' which means red as we have in erythrocyte, a red blood cell.
Prefixes are also often used to give a negative meaning to an anatomical term. For example, gonadogenesis is a process which leads to the development of gonads or primary reproductive organs while gonadal agenesis is a condition involving failure of the gonadal development. We can add the prefix 'a-' or 'an-' to suggest lack of, failure, or without. So next time you want to break up with someone, just say, "Sorry, but I rather stay alone."
Another common negative prefix is 'dys-' or 'd-y-s-' which generally implies a condition resulting from a failed process in the body. For example, dysdipsia, 'dys-' as in failure, 'dipsia' as thirst, which describes a difficulty in drinking; or dysplasia, 'dys-' again as in failure, 'plasia' as in development, which can be related to a host of developmental abnormalities.
Many other negative prefixes which are widely used in English are also used in anatomical terminology such as 'anti-' or 'anti-' depending on how you pronounce it; 'in-' or 'i-n'; 'im-' or 'i-m'. The other one is 'non-' or 'un-'.
The final category of common prefixes which I want to look at now are those which add detail for either the position of the structure and time relative to another event in the body. Some examples of these include 'ante-' which means before or in front of. For example, we have antenatal which means before birth. 'Pre-' or 'pro-' can also have similar meanings. For example, precancerous – a growth likely to turn malignant, or preaortic – anterior to the aorta, or procephalic – anterior part of the head.
The opposite of these prefixes, of course, is 'post-' which refers to something after an event or behind another structure. For example, postmortem which means after death or postcardial behind the heart. The Latin names 'dexter-' and 'sinister-' refer to the directions right and left and are often found in a prefix form when describing position. For instance, dextrocardia – the heart positioned in the right side of the thorax; or sinistrocerebral, pertaining to the left cerebral hemisphere.
Next up are the prefixes 'ec-', 'ecto-', or 'exo-' – all of which suggests a position outside of or away from something. Examples of these include ectopic as in Greek 'ek' means out and 'topos' means place which literally means out of place such as an ectopic pregnancy where implantation of a fetus occurs outside of the uterus. The opposite of these prefixes would be 'endo-' meaning inside or within. An endoscopy is a common procedure in which a camera is placed inside the body for exploratory, diagnostic, or surgical purposes.
Two last prefixes before we wrap this up, and these are 'meso-' meaning middle and 'tele-' referring to the end of something or something distant. For example, mesoderm is an embryonic cell layer found between the ectoderm and endoderm layers while a teleneuron is another name for a nerve ending found distant from the cell body.
Okay, so I don't know about you, but I think we've done pretty well with our introduction to prefixes and suffixes today. Of course, what we've learned today – and by no means exhaustive – there are lots and lots more prefixes and suffixes to be discovered and explored. As we work through the systems of the body, we will be continuously introducing you to new prefixes and suffixes as we go along, so by the time you reach the end of this series, I guarantee you, you will be an absolute pro at anatomical terminology.
Now this course will help you become more fluent in the language of anatomy, but there is a lot more to learn about the human body. So don't forget to head over to kenhub.com for a complete atlas of human anatomy, full of stunning images, and hundreds – I mean, hundreds – of complete articles so you master anatomy and histology.
As we finish up, let's set ourselves a little challenge to see how we've done today – why not take a shot at figuring out the meaning of these terms which are based on some of the word elements we learned about today.