Medical Terminology For Dummies
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Got a problem with the respiratory system? Well, here are the medical terms you’ll need. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there are all sorts of ways physicians and other medical professionals can diagnose what ails those airways.

Respiratory radiology and diagnostic tests

To start, physicians rely on their senses to look and listen to what your lungs and associated respiratory parts are doing. Every time, for example, the doctor listens to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope, she is performing auscultation. This simple method allows doctors and nurses to hear the sounds of the lungs, pleura, heart, and abdomen.

Another listening technique is percussion, in which the physician makes short, sharp blows (taps) to the surface of the body with a finger or instrument to determine density from sounds of the underlying tissue.

A laryngoscopy occurs when the larynx is visualized with a laryngoscope. A bronchoscopy is the examination of the bronchus by passing a flexible fiber optic tube (endoscope) into the bronchus. A tracheostomy is cutting an opening into the trachea through the neck and inserting a tube to facilitate passage of air or removal of secretions.

IPPA stands for inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation. These are all part of a normal physical examination.

Diagnostic tests are part of the respiratory physician’s problem-solving bag of tricks. Some of the most used tests are the following:

  • Bronchial washing: Specimens can be obtained for bacterial studies and cytologic or cell studies, by aspiration of bronchial secretions or by injecting fluid and retrieving it.

  • Chest x-ray (CXR): Radiograph of chest to evaluate heart and lungs.

  • Endotracheal intubation is when a tube is placed through the mouth, into the trachea, to establish an airway.

  • Lung biopsy: Lung tissue is obtained by forceps or brush (bronchial brushing). Can also be accomplished through a catheter inserted under x-ray guidance.

  • Lung scan: Radioactive material is injected or inhaled and images are recorded of its distribution into lung tissue.

  • Pulmonary angiography: X-ray image of the blood vessels of the lungs after injection of contrast material.

  • Pulmonary function tests evaluate ventilation capacity of the lung. A spirometer measures the air taken in and out of the lungs.

  • Sputum culture: Sputum is analyzed for presence of bacteria.

  • Thoracentesis: Chest wall is punctured with a needle to obtain fluid from the pleural cavity for diagnostic studies or to relieve pressure in the lung.

  • Tuberculin test is when an antigen is applied to the skin by multiple punctures or tines test, or intradermally by the Mantoux test. An inflammatory reaction is observed in 48-96 hours in an infected patient.

One very useful way to view what is going on in the respiratory system is to use x-ray and endoscopic procedures to take a closer look. Two major types of x-ray are used: A bronchogram is an x-ray of the bronchi, and a chest x-ray is used to evaluate the lungs and heart. Another widely used diagnostic method is the bronchoscopy, a visual examination of the bronchus using a bronchoscope.

A chest CT is also called computerized axial tomography (CAT scan). This is when physicians and radiologists use computerized images of the chest cavity to diagnose tumors, abscesses, and pleural effusion.

Respiratory surgeries and procedures

Most of the terms regarding surgeries and procedures revolve around the actual incisions, excisions, and repairs used to treat a myriad of conditions and diseases. As such, these terms are fairly straightforward. You’ll see a lot of -otomy and -plasty suffixes here, denoting the type of procedure.

Start at the top, with repairs made to the nose. Rhinoplasty is a surgical repair of the nose, while septoplasty is the surgical repair of the nasal septum.

Moving down to the throat region, you have the adenoidectomy, an excision of adenoids. Similarly, the tonsillectomy is an excision of the neighboring tonsils, as well as a sure method of obtaining ice cream.

Two terms relate directly to the larynx. Laryngectomy is the excision of larynx, while laryngoplasty is the surgical repair of the larynx. Moving on to the trachea, you have the tracheotomy. This procedure involves an incision into the trachea. A tracheoplasty is a surgical repair of the trachea.

The lungs and chest cavity are next. Here are some of the most common surgeries and procedures pertaining to that area of the respiratory system:

  • Decortication of lung: Surgical removal of surface layer of lung, when thick outer layer restricts lung expansion

  • Lobectomy: Excision of a lobe of a lung

  • Lung transplantation: Partial or total surgical removal of diseased lungs, replaced by lungs from a donor

  • Pleurocentesis: Surgical puncture to aspirate fluid from pleural space

  • Pneumonectomy: Excision of a lung

  • Thoracocentesis: Surgical puncture to aspirate fluid from the chest cavity

  • Thoracotomy: Incision into the chest cavity

Respiratory pharmacology

Several kinds of medicines are used to treat the respiratory system. Bronchodilators are used to treat asthma, COPD, and exercise-induced bronchospasm. They relax muscles around the bronchi, increasing air flow. They are usually given orally, intravenously, or by nebulizer or aerochamber (inhaler) administered in puffs. Corticosteroids are used to control inflammatory responses. Diuretics (water pills) are used to treat pulmonary edema.

When you are feeling the effects of a cold, you probably take one of these next four drug types: Decongestants help reduce swelling in mucous membranes of the nose, to relieve stuffiness and allow secretions to drain. Antihistamines help dry up secretions. They are effective in treating allergic reactions, but not effective on the common cold. Antitussives decrease coughing by suppressing the cough center in the brain. Expectorants reduce the thickness of sputum so it can be coughed up more easily.

If over-the-counter meds just won’t cut it, a prescription may be in order. Antibiotics are used to treat respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and pneumonias. Silver nitrate can be used to cauterize superficial blood vessels that cause nosebleeds.

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