Most medical terms can be broken down into one or more word
parts. For simplicity in explanation, we will say that there are four possible
word parts, and any given medical term may contain one, some, or all of these
parts. We will classify these word parts as
(1) roots, (2) prefixes, (3) suffixes, and (4) linking or combining vowels. An example of a word with three of the above parts is the medical term "pericarditis", which means "inflammation of the outer layer of the heart". Pericarditis can be divided into three parts:
Once divided into its essential parts, pericarditis can be translated:
the prefix "peri" translates to "surrounding", the root "card" translates to
"heart", and the suffix "itis" translates to "inflammation". Hence, pericarditis
is an inflammation of the area surrounding the heart, or an inflammation of
the outer layer of the heart, anatomically known as the pericardium [go
to heart page].
Medical terms always consist of at least one "root", although
they may contain more. The root of a word is that part which contains the essential
meaning of the word. An example of this was seen above in the term "pericarditis".
The root of the word - card - refers to the heart, so any prefix or suffix added
to the root (card) will only function to add to the specificity of that word.
An example of this would be 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 "a condidtion or
state " - is added to "bradycard", the medical term "bradycardia" is formed.
The translation of bradycardia (brady - card - ia) is slow - heart - state,
or the condition of a slow heart rate.
As was discussed above, a medical term must have at least one
root, but does not have to have a prefix and/or a suffix. An example of this
is the term "sternocleidomastoid", which is a muscle that has attachments at
the sternum, the clavicle, and the mastoid. The term sternocleidomastoid can
be divided into three parts (three roots, in this case): stern - o - cleid -
o - mastoid. Notice that there are vowels between the three roots. These are
"linking or combining vowels", which serve to make a term easier to pronounce.
The vowel used most of the time is "o", but other vowels such as "i" and "a"
are also used. Combining vowels are often used between roots and suffixes or
roots and other roots, but they are NOT used between prefixes and roots.
GO BACK TO THE FIRST PAGE OF THE MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY WEB SITE