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Glossary of Common Medical Terms

ABATEMENT – A decrease in the acuity of a symptom.

ABDOMEN – Area of the body located between the thorax and pelvis which contains the abdominal cavity and viscera.

ABLATION - Surgical removal of a part of the body, such as an amputation of a limb or removal of an abnormal tissue growth.

ABRASION – The rubbing away of the superficial layers of the skin through friction due to trauma, therapy, or normal function.

ABSCESS – A collection of fluid, called pus, located on or in the body that is an immune system response to a foreign body or infective substance. It is characterized by swelling, heat, redness, and pain.

ACAMPSIA – Increased rigidity or inflexibility of a joint, resulting in an inability to flex or extend it. 

ACANTHESTHESIA – Also known as paresthesia, it is the “pins and needles” sensation experienced when circulation has been interrupted for a period of time and then restored.

ACROCYANOSIS - Blueness of the hands and feet caused by a decrease in the blood supply and oxygen, either by constriction or spasm of the small blood vessels.

ACROTIC – An absent or extremely weak pulse.

ACUPUNCTURE – A form of traditional Chinese medicine believed to restore the body’s energy flow. Sharp, thin needles are used in very specific points on the body.

ACUTE – Condition characterized by sudden, rapid severity and ending after a short course.

ADRENERGIC - Referring to sympathetic nerve fibers of the autonomic nervous system that secretes epinephrine/norepinephrine during nerve impulses.

AFEBRILE - Without fever.

AGONIST – A medication or other substance that combines with a cell receptor which then stimulates a predictable physiologic response.

AKINESTHESIA – The loss of the sense of movement.

ALKALOID – Chemicals that are found naturally in plants with medicinal properties.

ALLERGY – Hypersensitivity to a substance producing local and systemic reactions, such as rash, runny eyes, or anaphylaxis.

AMBULATORY – Ability to walk.

AMPUTATION – The surgical removal of a body part, either due to disease, gangrene, or severe pain. 

AMYOTONIA – Characterized by absence of muscle tone.

ANALGESIA – The absence of pain in response to stimulation that would normally be painful without loss of consciousness.

ANAPHYLAXIS – Extreme immune system response to an allergen that is rapid in onset and can potentially be fatal.

ANEMIA – Insufficient number of oxygen-carrying components of the blood.

ANKYLOSIS – The fixation or immobility of a joint as a result of trauma, surgery, bone fusion or disease.

ANTAGONIST – Medication that counteracts the actions and properties of another.

ARRHYTHMIA – Also known as an irregular heartbeat, it is the interruption of a heart rhythm.

ASYMPTOMATIC - Without symptoms.

ATROPHY – Deterioration of an organ or tissue which had previously been normally developed due to disease, malnutrition, disuse, or poor blood circulation.

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM – The portion of the central nervous system containing the sympathetic and parasympathetic subsystems which controls the involuntary actions of the body, including breathing, heart beat, gastrointestinal movement, etc.

BACTERIA – Microscopic unicellular forms of life that cause infection and disease.

BENIGN – A condition or abnormal growth that is treatable and not life-threatening. Opposite of malignant.

BIOPSY – Removal of a portion of tissue for further examination for diagnostic purposes.

BLOOD PRESSURE – Measurement of the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries dependent on the action of the heart. Measured when the heart contracts (systolic) over when the heart is filling with blood (diastolic).

BONE SCAN – A test that detects increased or decreased bone metabolism which indicate fracture, tumors, or infections.

CARDIOVASCULAR­ – Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels of the body.

CARTILAGE – Connective tissue found in the joints, nose, outside of the ears, as well as other parts of the body.

CAVITY – Hollow space within the body that contains one or more organs.

CATHETER - A hollow, flexible tube for passage into a structure to remove or inject fluid.

CT (computed tomography) SCAN – X-rays taken from many different angles of the body and arranged by the computer to give a three-dimensional picture of a structure. Also known as a CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan.

CHONDRITIS - Inflammation of cartilage.

CHRONIC – Slow progression of a condition that persists over a long period of time. Not acute in nature.

COMPRESSION – To apply pressure, either to reduce swelling, prevent further injury, or stop bleeding.

CONSCIOUS – Alert, capable of responding to external stimuli.

CONTRACTURE – Permanent shortening of a muscle, joint, or tendon so that it cannot be straightened, flexed and extended.

CYANOTIC - Bluish color of the skin and mucous membranes, due to poor circulation and insufficient oxygen in the bloodstream.

DEHYDRATION - Excessive loss of water from the body or from an organ or a body part, as occurs during illness or fluid deprivation.

DISEASE -A disturbance in the body or function of an organ or organs with pathological signs and symptom.

DORSUM – The posterior side of a body part.

DYSPHAGIA – Difficulty swallowing.

DYSPNEA – Difficulty breathing or breathing that is labored.

DYSTONIA – Having abnormal muscle tone.

ECCHYMOSIS – The rupture of blood underneath the skin; also known as bruising.

ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY – Non-invasive ultrasound that displays the image of the inside of he heart. Used to identify any structural abnormalities of the heart.

EDEMA - Abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body tissues or body cavities causing swelling or distention of the affected parts.

ELECTROCARDIOGRAPHY - The recording and interpreting of the electrical activity of the heart and measures the actions of the heart for abnormalities.

ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAPHY – Measures the brains waves and electrical activity of the brain.

EMBOLISM – The occlusion of blood flow by a blood clot, which can result in stroke or heart attack.

ENDOSCOPE – An instrument consisting of two fiber optic lines, one which lights up the body cavity and the other which carries the image of that body cavity back.

ERYTHEMA – Skin redness.

ETIOLOGY - The cause of a specific disorder or disease.

EXACERBATION – The relapse of a chronic condition.

EXTREMITIES – Parts of the body that are located away from the trunk. Includes the arms and legs.

FEBRILE – Feverish.

FIBRILLATION – Uncontrollable twitching of muscle fibers of the heart.

GANGRENE – Death of a body tissue, usually from loss of blood supply

GERM – Microorganism that can produce disease.

HEART – Muscular organ that continuously pumps the blood to all parts of the body.

HEMATEMESIS – Refers to blood in vomitus.

HEMATOMA – Collection of blood in a tissue that clots and then becomes encapsulated by connective tissue.

HYPERGLYCEMIA – Abnormally excessive amount of sugar in the blood.

HYPERTENSION – Elevated blood pressure.

HYPOGLYCEMIA – Abnormally low amount of sugar in the blood.

HYPOREFLEXIA – Below normal response of the reflexes.

HYPOTENSION – Abnormally low blood pressure.

IDIOPATHIC - Of unknown cause.

IATROGENIC – Condition caused by the treatment for another condition.

INDURATION – The hardening of a tissue or organ from blood accumulation, inflammation, or growth.

INFECTION – Invasion of the body by bacteria, fungi, or viruses that produces either a localized or systemic response.

INFLAMMATION – Reaction of the body to injury or infectious, allergic, and chemical irritation and manifested by pain, heat, swelling, and redness.

INTRACTABLE – Difficult to alleviate or cure.

ISCHEMIA – Decrease or lack of blood supply to an organ or part due to a constriction or obstruction of the blood vessels.

JAUNDICE – Also known as icterus, it is the yellowing of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes due to accumulation of bile salts in these tissues. It is indicative of several diseases such as hepatitis.

LUMBAR – Situation in the part of the back and sides between the lowest ribs and the pelvis.

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGINING (MRI) - A technique for viewing internal organs and bones that do not show up well on x-rays. It creates multiple detailed images using no radioactive waves.

MALAISE - A general feeling of being ill or having body discomfort.

MYALGIA – Muscle pain.

MYOCLONUS – Sudden abnormal twitching of muscles or muscle groups without any rhythm that occurs with brain disorders.

MYOSITIS – Inflammation of muscle characterized by pain, tenderness and occasionally spasm.

MYOTONIA – Temporary muscle spasm.

NEURALGIA – Severe pain that extends along the route of a nerve.

NEURITIS - Inflammation or degeneration of a nerve or nerve group which is characterized by pain, loss of reflexes and possible atrophy of the muscles affected by those nerves.

NEUROPATHIC PAIN - Any neurovascular pain syndrome originating in peripheral nerves and nerve roots which are located in the extremities..

NEUROPATHY – Any abnormality or disease of nerve tissues of the nervous system.

NEUROVASCULAR – Pertaining to both the neurologic and vascular structures.

OSTEODYNIA - Pain in a bone.

PAIN - An unpleasant feeling relayed to the brain via sensory neurons which is indicative of injury or potential injury to the body.

PAIN KILLER – Also known as analgesic, this is a substance that relieves pain without causing a loss of consciousness.

PAIN THRESHOLD - The point at which one feels the sensation of pain. Those with a high pain thresholds experience the pain sensation later than those with a low pain threshold.

PALLIATIVE - Treatment given to alleviate symptoms of a disease but not cure it. This mainly refers to pain management of a chronic disease state.

PALMAR – Pertaining to the palm side of the hand.

PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM – Part of the autonomic nervous system or involuntary which innervates the eyes, smooth muscle, head and neck glands, heart, lungs, and abdominal viscera.

PARESIS – Partial paralysis of both the voluntary and involuntary muscle groups of the body.

PERIPHERY - The part of the body away from the center, such as the extremities.

POLYARTHRITIS - Inflammation of multiple joints.

POLYMYOSITIS – Inflammatory muscle disease that causes moderate-to-severe pain and weakness.

RADICULAR – Referring to the nerve roots which originate in the spine.

RADICULOPATHY - Disease of the spinal nerve roots.

REBOUND REACTION - Relapse of symptoms when medication or treatment is abruptly terminated.

REFERRED PAIN - Pain which is felt some distance from the site of its origin primarily due to nerve signals sharing the same nerve pathway leading to the spinal cord and brain.

REFLEX - An involuntary physiologic response to a particular stimulus.

REFLUX- Flowing in a backward direction.

REMISSION – Disappearance of signs of a disease.

RESPIRATORY RATE – Rate of breathing per minute.

ROMBERG - Inability to stay balanced when standing with eyes closed.

SCIATICA – Severe pain along the sciatic nerve which radiates from the lower lumbar region to the buttocks and down the legs.

SEROTONIN - A neurotransmitter which causes blood vessels to constrict and contract and stimulates smooth muscle.

SPASM – Sudden involuntary forceful contraction of a muscle or a group of muscles usually associated with marked discomfort.

STIMULUS – Anything that elicits a physiological response.

SUBCUTANEOUS – Located just beneath the skin.

SUBLUXATION - A slight dislocation or misalignment of a bone in a joint.

SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM- The part of the autonomic nervous system which opposes the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system to regulate function. Activated under situations of extreme stress.

SYNCOPE – Also known as fainting, it is a brief loss of consciousness due to temporary interruption of flow of oxygen to the brain.

SYNDROME- A simultaneous grouping of symptoms and signs which form a definite pattern of a specific condition, disease or abnormality.

THENAR REGION – The fleshy part of the palm of the hand located at the base of the thumb.

THORACIC – Pertaining to the thorax region or chest.

TROPIC - Resulting from interruption of nerve supply.

ULTRASOUND – Non-invasive use of ultrasonic sound waves for diagnostic purposes.

VALGUS – Abnormal outward turning of the foot.

VASCULAR SYSTEM – the organs and tissues that are responsible for circulating bodily fluids such as blood and lymph throughout the body.

VASOCONSTRICTION - The narrowing of blood vessels.

VASODILITATION – The enlargement of blood vessels.

VASOMOTOR MECHANISM – Mechanism that regulates the contraction or dilation of blood vessels.

VASOSPASM - Sudden contraction of a blood vessel or a segment of a blood vessel.

VASOVAGAL SYNCOPE – Episode of transient loss of consciousness distinguished by drop in heart rate and blood pressure, extreme pallor, nausea and sweating.

VERTIGO - Dizziness, especially the feeling that one's surroundings are rotating rapidly.

VOLAR – Surfaces of the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.

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