Medical Terminology For Dummies
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It’s time to familiarize yourself with medical terminology for the nervous system. It’s hard to believe the brain and spinal cord hold so much responsibility for the way your entire body functions. And like a supercomputer, one small glitch in how the neurons fire or how the messages are sent down the spinal cord can make the difference between, say, walking and being confined to a wheelchair.

Now let’s start building some vocabulary. Here’s a list of prefixes and suffixes associated with the nervous system.

Prefix What It Means
Hemi- Half
Pachy- Thick
Para- Beyond, around, beside
Polio- Gray
Quadri- Four
Sub- Below, under
Suffix What It Means
-algia Pain
-itis Inflammation
-malacia Softening
-paresis Partial paralysis
-plegia Paralysis
-schisis Cleft or splitting
-thenia Lack of strength or weakness
-us Condition

Now, check out nervous root words and their combining forms.

Root Word What It Means
Algesi/o Excessive sensitivity to pain
Cephal/o Head
Cerebell/o Cerebellum
Cerebr/o Brain, cerebrum
Crani/o Cranium (skull)
Dur/o Dura mater
Ech/o Sound
Encephal/o Brain
Esthesi/o Feeling, nervous, sensation
Gli/o Glue, supportive tissues of the nervous system
Kinesi/o Movement
Mening/o Membrane
Meningi/o Meninges
Ment/o, phren/o Mind
Myel/o Spinal cord
My/o Muscle
Neur/o Nerve
Phas/o Speech
Pont/o Pons
Psych/o Mind
Radicul/o Nerve root
Thalam/o Thalamus
Ventricul/o Ventricle

Here it is: The potpourri, the mish-mash, the great melting pot of nervous system terms. These are some of the most common phrases you’ll hear in the doctor’s office and hospital:

  • Anesthesia: Without or loss of feeling or sensation

  • Anesthesiologist: Physician who administers an anesthetic (a drug that reduces feeling)

  • Ataxia: Lack of muscle coordination

  • Coma: State of profound unconsciousness

  • Convulsion: Sudden involuntary contractions of a group of muscles

  • Dementia: Mental decline

  • Disorientation: A state of confusion as to time, place, or identity

  • Gait: A matter or style of walking

  • Monoplegia: Paralysis of one limb

  • Neurologist: Physician who specializes in neurology, the scientific study of the nervous system; does not perform surgery

  • Neurology: The branch of medicine dealing with the study of the nervous system, functions and disorders

  • Neurosurgeon: Physician who specializes in neurology and performs surgeries on the nervous system

  • Paraplegia: Paralysis of the lower half of the body

  • Postictal: Occurring after a seizure or attack

  • Psychiatrist: Physician who treats mental disorders

  • Psychiatry: Branch of medicine that deals with treatment of mental disorders (disorders often without any identifiable pathological cause)

  • Psychogenic: Produced or caused by psychological factors

  • Psychogenetic: Originating in the mind

  • Psychologist: Specialist in psychology

  • Psychology: The study of the mind, mental processes, and behavior

  • Psychosomatic: Pertaining to the mind and the body

  • Quadriplegia: Paralysis of all four limbs

  • Seizure: Sudden involuntary contractions (convulsion)

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