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How to Use Commonly Confused Words Correctly

Decoding Medical Lingo

If you're watching a TV drama about doctors, it doesn't matter whether you understand exactly what's being said. But when you're sitting in a doctor's office and he or she is talking about your child, your parent, or you, understanding the doctor is a must.

Kind and gentle medical terms

Modalities of therapy. Capillary hemangiomas. Spontaneous involution. Believe it or not, doctors bandy about complicated terms as though the terms actually mean something. And, believe it or not, they do — but only to other doctors. At some point in your life, you may have to deal with a medical specialist — and their language, as the preceding terminology shows, can be very intimidating. So what do you do when you have to talk to a doctor who uses complex medical terms? First, you ask them to put everything in plain English:

Modalities of therapy? It means "treatments."

Capillary hemangiomas? It refers to strawberry birthmarks.

Spontaneous involution? It means "disappearing on its own."

Table 1 can help you get a grasp of some basic, benign medical terms that you actually may not mind hearing your doctor say . . . until you get the bill, of course!

Table 1: Benign Medical Terms


Part of Speech


antibiotic (an-ty-by-ah-tik)


bacteria-killing substance

antidote (an-teh-doht)


remedy that acts against a poison

antiseptic (an-tih-sep-tik)


substance that prevents infection or decay by killing germs

asymptomatic (ay-simp-teh-ma-tik)


without symptoms

benign (bih-nyn)


harmless; not malignant

coagulate (koh-ag-yoo-layt)


to thicken or clot, or to cause to do so (as in blood)

convalescence (kon-veh-les-sens)


gradual recovery; period of recovery

diagnosis (dy-ag-noh-sis)


decision or opinion based on an examination

plasma (plaz-ma)


fluid portion of the blood

prognosis (prog-noh-sis)


prediction of the probable course of a disease and the chances of recovery

remission (ree-mih-shun)


disappearance of disease symptoms

suture (soo-chur)


joining two edges together by stitching, or similar means; a stitch

therapy (ther-ah-pee)


treatment of disease

A CAT scan (computed axial tomography) is an x-ray image of an organ — often the brain. CAT scans help doctors view the body by providing a computer reconstruction of multiple images at different planes. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a scan of the body that uses magnetic energy, rather than radiation, to view an organ or body part. An MRI is especially useful for visualizing soft tissue. Still another way of seeing what's going on inside a body is a sonogram, which creates a visual image from sound waves. Sonograms are often used to determine the gender of a baby before birth.

Medical terms to come to terms with

It's true that medical jargon all too often makes simple and relatively harmless things sound scary. After all, most lay people would quake at a diagnosis of acute paronychia only to feel immense relief to discover that it's an infected hang nail.

Still, many medical terms are a bit more worthy of their scary sounding names. Hearing one of the terms in Table 2 may make you sit up a little straighter. If your doctor applies one of the following words to you, you may want to do some additional research on your condition.

Table 2: Medical Terms that Cause Concern


Part of Speech


aneurysm (an-yoor-iz-em)


sac formed by an enlarged weakened wall in arteries, veins, or the heart

carcinogenic (kar-sin-oh-jen-ik)



comatose (koh-mah-tohs)


unconscious; in a coma

concussion (kon-kuhs-shun)


brain injury due to violent blow or impact

hematoma (hee-meh-toh-ma)


collection of blood, usually clotted, outside a blood vessel

incision (in-siz-zhun)


cut, as in surgery

lacerated (las-er-ay-ted)


torn, as in a wound

lesion (lee-zhun)



melanoma (mel-eh-noh-ma)


malignant skin tumor

migraine (my-grayn)


intense, recurring headache

toxic (tox-ik)



ulcer (ul-sur)


open sore, as in the stomach lining

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