How to Match Prefixes in Medical Terminology to Situations

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

You will need to be able to apply prefixes to the words used every day in medical terminology. Keep in mind that the following is not by any stretch the end-all, be-all, conclusive list of medical words, but it’s a nice sampling of prefixes at work.

In your body

Here are some common examples of prefixes in body-related words. You can see a nice mix of amounts, directions, and changes in these prefixes:

  • Amenorrhea: Without period or menses, as in pregnancy

  • Anovulatory: Ovaries not releasing eggs, can be hormonally induced

  • Bilateral: Lateral meaning side; both sides

  • Bradycardia: Slow heart rate

  • Bradyarrhythmia: Slow, irregular heartbeat

  • Circumferential: Around the outside

  • Dysfunctional: Difficult or painful; dysfunctional uterine bleeding

  • Exocervix: Part of the cervix away from the uterus

  • Endocervix: Inner part of cervix, within the uterus

  • Hypertension: Excessive or high blood pressure

  • Hyperemesis: Excessive vomiting

  • Hypotensive: Low or below normal blood pressure

  • Infraumbilical: Below or beneath the umbilicus

  • Multiloculated: A tumor or cyst having many or multiple locules, small spaces or cavities often filled with fluid

  • Oliguria: Scanty, inadequate amount of urine production

  • Oligomenorrhea: Scanty menstrual flow

  • Paraovarian: Beside an ovary

  • Pericardial: Around the heart

  • Periurethral: Around the opening of the urethra

  • Polydipsia: Excessive thirst (symptom of diabetes)

  • Polyuria: Excessive urination (also symptom of diabetes)

  • Pseudocyst: A structure resembling a cyst; but not an actual cyst

  • Subcostal: Beneath or under the ribs

  • Subumbilical: Area beneath or under the umbilicus

In the doctor’s office and hospital

Check out this sampling of words you might hear around the physician’s office or in the hospital ER:

  • Abduction: Moving a body part away from the point of origin

    This term is used in orthopedics to test range of motion of an arm or leg. In medical transcription, it is often dictated as “A-B-duction” to distinguish from “A-D-duction,” meaning the opposite.

  • Adduction: Moving towards the point of origin; opposite of abduction; usually dictated or pronounced “A-D-duction.”

  • Autologous bone graft: Bone taken from donor site on body to use as a graft on another part of the body

  • Dissection: To cut or slice into two parts

  • Intrauterine device: Contraceptive device inside or within uterus

  • Intravenous: Within a vein; injection within a vein (not between)

  • Intramuscular: Injection into a muscle, not between

  • Macroscopic: Large enough to be seen with the naked eye

  • Multiparous: Condition of having had many children

  • Perioperative: Period of time around or during an operative procedure

  • Postnatal: After or following giving birth

  • Postoperative: Period of time following an operative procedure

  • Preoperative: Period of time before an operative procedure

  • Prenatal: Period of time before giving birth (a.k.a. “the pregnancy”)

  • Premenstrual: Period of time before a menstrual period begins

  • Pseudopregnancy: A false pregnancy

  • Tachycardia: Rapid or fast heart rate

  • Tachyarrhythmia: Rapid or fast heart arrhythmia

In the pharmacy and research lab

Heaven knows there are tons of long, hard-to-spell, 25-cent words used in the pharmacy and the lab. Here’s a quick taste:

  • Anti-inflammatory: Agent opposing or fighting against inflammation

  • Contraindication: Inadvisable, to be avoided

    In drug therapy, certain drugs are contraindicated in the presence of other drugs with which they interact.

  • Microscopic: Very small; only seen using a microscope

  • Neoplasia: Condition of new or recent (cell) growth

  • Neoplasm: New or recent growth; could be a tumor or cyst