How to Add Up Individual Word Meanings to Decipher Medical Terminology

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

Just as in a math problem, you can add up the parts of a medical term and get one coherent answer, one complete meaning. Here’s one example to get you started: Break the word gastroenterologist into root words and suffixes:

gastroenterologist = gastro + entero + logist

Look at the suffix first: -logist says this is a person, the physician. Now go back to the beginning. Gastro is the root word for stomach, and entero is the root word for intestines. Broken down, then, a gastroenterologist is a physician who studies and treats diseases of the stomach and intestines, performing a medical service known as gastroenterology.

With two root words, the meaning of both root words must be researched to know the true meaning of the term.

Let’s take a trip through the body to find some not so easy terms. Using the rules of dissection, you should be able decipher some brainteasers.

  • Ana/tomy: -tomy (“process of cutting”) + ana (“apart”) = study of body structure (to study, one must cut up or dissect)

  • Arthro/-ophthalmo/pathy: -pathy (“condition or disease”) + arthro (“joint”) + ophthalmo (“eye”) = disease affecting joints and eyes

  • Auto/opsy: -opsy (“to view”) + auto (“self”) = examination of body after death (yes, it’s a stretch)

  • Bio/logy: -logy (“the study of”) + bio (“life”) = study of living things

  • Cerebro/malacia: -malacia (“softening”) + cerebro (“brain”) = softening of the brain

  • Cerebro/vascul/ar: -ar (“pertaining to”) + cerebro (“brain”) + vasculo (“vessel”) = pertaining to the brain and blood vessels

  • Choledocho/litho/tripsy: -tripsy (“crushing”) + choledocho (“common bile duct of the gallbladder”) + litho (“stone”) = crushing of stones in the common bile duct of the gallbladder

  • Chondro/malacia: -malacia (“softening”) + chondro (“cartilage”) = softening of cartilage

  • Chondr/oma: -oma (“mass or tumor”) + chondro (“cartilage”) = tumor of cartilage

  • Crani/otomy: -otomy (“cutting into”) + cranio (“skull”) = cutting into the skull

  • Dermat/itis: -itis (“inflammation”) + dermato (“skin”) = inflammation of the skin

  • Dermato/plasty: -plasty (“surgical reconstruction”) + dermato (“skin”) = surgical reconstruction of the skin

  • Encephalo/megaly: –megaly (“enlargement”) + encephalo (“brain”) = enlargement of the brain

  • Encephalo/pathy: -pathy (“disease”) + encephalo (“brain”) = brain disease

  • Glyc/emia: -emia (“blood condition”) + glyco (“sugar”) = sugar in the blood

    Then, by adding prefixes to glycemia, you get

    Hyper/glyc/emia: -hyper (“excessive”) = excessive sugar in blood

    Hypo/glyc/emia: -hypo (“insufficient”) = insufficient or low amount of sugar in the blood

  • Gyneco/mastia: -mastia (“breast”) + gyneco (“woman/female”) = excessive development of male breast tissue

  • Hemat/emesis: -emesis (“vomiting”) + hemato (“blood”) = vomiting of blood

  • Hemo/lysis: -lysis (“breakdown or destruction”) + hemo (“blood”) = breakdown of blood

  • Hyper/cholesterol/emia: -emia (“blood condition”) + hyper (“excessive or above normal”) + cholesterol = excessive amount of cholesterol in blood

  • Hyper/emesis: -emesis (“vomiting”) + hyper (“excessive”) = excessive vomiting

  • Hyper/hidr/osis: -osis (“abnormal condition”) + hyper (“excessive or above normal”) + hidro (“sweat”) = excessive secretion of sweat or excessive sweating

  • Hystero/salpingo/gram: -gram (“a record”) + hystero (“uterus”) + salpingo (“fallopian tube”) = x-ray record of the uterus and fallopian tubes

  • Inter/vertebral: -vertebral (“pertaining to vertebrae or a vertebra”) + inter (“between”) = between vertebrae or a vertebra

  • Intra/cranial: -cranial (“pertaining to the skull”) + intra (“within”) = pertaining to within the skull

  • Jejuno/ile/ostomy: -ostomy (“artificial surgical opening”) + jejuno (“jejunum”) + ileo (“ileum”) = surgical opening or new connection between the jejunum and ileum

  • Laryngo/tracheo/bronch/itis: -itis (“inflammation”) + laryngo (“larynx”) + trachea (“trachea”) + broncho (“bronchus”) = inflammation of the larynx, trachea, and bronchus (croup)

  • Leio/myo/sarcoma: -sarcoma (“malignant tumor”) + leio (“smooth”) + myo (“muscle”) = tumor of smooth muscle

  • Leuko/penia: -penia (“lack of or deficiency”) + leuko (“white/white blood cells”) = deficient amount of white blood cells

  • Micro/dactyly: micro (“small”) + dactyly (“fingers or toes”) = pertaining to small fingers and/or toes

  • Nephro/pexy: -pexy (“surgical fixation”) + nephro (“kidney”) = surgical fixation of a kidney

  • Neur/itis: -itis (“inflammation”) + neuro (“nerve”) = inflammation of a nerve

  • Oligo/sperm/ia: -ia “(condition”) + sperm (“spermatozoa”) + olio (“too little, too few”) = a subnormal concentration or number of spermatozoa in seminal fluid

  • Osteo/arthro/pathy: -pathy (condition or disease) + osteo (“bone”) + arthro (“joint”) = condition or disease affecting bones and joints

  • Oto/rhino/laryngo/logist: -logist (“person who studies”) + oto (“ear”) + rhino (“nose”) + laryngo (“larynx/throat”) = doctor specialized in otorhinolaryngology = ear, nose, and throat

  • Para/nasal: -nasal (“pertaining to nose”) + para (“beside or near”) = beside or near the nose

  • Peri/neur/itis: -itis (“inflammation”) + peri (“around”) + neuro (“nerve”) = inflammation around a nerve

  • Pneumo/conio/sis: -sis (“condition”) + conio (“dust”) + pneumo (“lung”) = lung condition caused by inhalation of dust particles

  • Presby/opia: -opia (“vision”) + presby (“old age”) = vision impaired due to aging

  • Presby/cusis: -cusis (“hearing”) + presby (“old age”) = diminished hearing due to aging

  • Respiro/meter: -meter (“to measure”) + respiro (“to breathe”) = instrument to measure extent of respiratory movements

  • Rhabdo/myo/sarcoma: -oma (“tumor”) + rhabdo (“rod shaped”) + myo (“muscle”) + sarc (“flesh/tissue”) = malignant tumor of muscle tissue made up of rod-shaped cells

  • Rhino/kyphosis: -kyphosis (“humped condition” + rhino (“nose”) = a humpback condition of the nose

  • Sialo/lith/otomy: – otomy (“surgical incision into”) + sialo (“salivary gland”) + lith (“stone or calculus”) = incision into a salivary gland or duct to remove a stone

  • Somn/ambul/ism: -ism (“condition”) + somn (“sleep”) + ambulo (“to walk”) = condition of sleep walking

  • Thoraco/myo/dynia: -dynia (“pain”) + thoraco (“chest/thorax”) + myo (“muscle”) = pain in the muscles of the chest wall

  • Thrombo/phleb/itis: -itis (“inflammation”) + thrombo (“clot”) + phlebo (“vein”) = inflammation of a vein with clot formation

  • Torti/collis: -is (“condition”) + torti (“twisted”) + collum (“neck”) = condition in which the neck is twisted to one side