How to Use Suffixes to Find the Meaning of Medical Terms - dummies

How to Use Suffixes to Find the Meaning of Medical Terms

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

If you are stuck on a medical term, using the suffix can help you discern some meaning. Check out some suffix examples. Suffixes related to procedures include -centesis, referring to surgical puncture to remove fluid for diagnostic purposes or to remove excess fluid. That means abdominocentesis is surgical puncture of the abdominal cavity.

Want to talk about removing something? The suffix -ectomy means “surgical removal of.” When you see -ectomy at the end of any term, no matter how long or how difficult or confusing the first part of the word is, it means surgical removal of something. Another term almost everyone knows that ends in -ectomy is appendectomy, surgical removal of the appendix.

But, sadly, it’s not always that easy. Take a look at a more complicated word and then break it down. How about the word salpingo-oophorectomy?

The ectomy most people know indicates the surgical removal of something. But what? Salpingo is the root word referring to the fallopian tube; oophoro is the root word for ovary. Therefore, salpingo-oophorectomy is surgical removal of a fallopian tube and ovary. Surgical removal of an ovary only would be oophorectomy. Surgical removal of a fallopian tube only would be salpingectomy.

The eagle eyes among you may have noticed this: There is a hyphen in salpingo-oophorectomy. This is there mainly to aid with pronunciation and to avoid a triple “o” vowel with the combining of the two roots. The word can also be expressed as oophorosalpingectomy, which means the same thing.

Another suffix related to procedures is -graphy, meaning the process of recording a picture or a record. Radiography is the process of recording a picture by radiograph or an x-ray. Suffixes -gram and -graph are used to describe the finished product, the recording or picture. An arteriography is the process of recording the picture of arteries. The arteriogram or arteriograph is the film that is produced by the arteriography.

The suffix -ostomy means to surgically create an artificial opening or stoma. A colostomy is a surgical creation of an opening between the colon and the body surface. The root word colo means colon. The suffix -otomy means “surgical cutting into,” or a surgical incision. In order, then, to perform a tracheostomy (the surgical creation of an opening in the trachea), a tracheotomy (the surgical incision into the trachea) must be performed.

It is important to know the difference between “ostomy” and “otomy” — there is only one letter difference, but a big difference in the meaning.

A similar suffix in meaning is -plasty. The suffix -plasty means “surgical repair.” The rule of thumb to remember here is when you hear or see -plasty think of the plastic surgeon, because, in most cases, -plasty surgical procedures are performed by the plastic surgeon. A term associated with this suffix is mammoplasty. The root word mammo refers to the breast. A reduction mammoplasty would be surgical reduction in the size of the breast.

Another commonly used suffix with regards to procedures is -scopy. This involves the visual examination of the interior of a body cavity or organ using an endoscope. The endoscope is the instrument, and endoscopy is the actual visual examination being performed with the endoscope.

In medicine today, more and more diagnostic procedures are being performed using the endoscopic method. Endoscopic surgery is less invasive. Small incisions (also known as portals) are made into skin, and the laparoscope is inserted through the portals. This provides visualization for excisions to be made through these very small incisions — as opposed to a full thickness, muscle-splitting incision to fully open up (in most cases) the abdominal wall.

Female sterilizations, hysterectomies, gallbladder removal, and appendectomies, just to name a few, are now being done laparoscopically. Less time is spent in the hospital, and the recovery period is reduced by as much as a month. For example, a gallbladder removed by routine upper abdominal incision requires a recovery period of four to six weeks; performed laparoscopically, with only portals to heal, the time is cut to two weeks.

Suffixes related to conditions are used over and over again. You have already covered a few, but let’s look at some. You have -algia, meaning “pain and suffering.” Arthralgia would refer to the pain and suffering of joints. Myalgia means “pain or suffering in the muscle.” The suffix -dynia also means “pain.” The word gastrodynia (gastro is a root word for “stomach”) means “pain in the stomach.”

You already know -itis means “inflammation.” You can have gastritis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, thyroiditis, neuritis, cellulitis, dermatitis, colitis, enteritis, and arthritis (though you certainly wouldn’t want to). You could have an -itis of almost any part of your body.

Inflammation has two m’s, but inflamed has only one.

The suffix -malacia means “abnormal softening,” most often used referring to bone disorders, but it does mean abnormal softening, and arteriomalacia refers to abnormal softening of the walls of an artery or arteries.

The suffix -megaly means “large” or “enlarged.” It can be coupled with many body parts or organs. Cardiomegaly means enlargement of the heart, splenomegaly enlargement of a spleen. Hepatomegaly is enlargement of the liver. Thyromegaly would be enlargement of the thyroid gland. And hepatosplenomegaly would be enlargement of the liver and spleen, a double-barreled root word.

The suffix -osis means “a disease or abnormal condition,” a general suffix associated with many of the root words. Gastrosis means a disease (any disease) of the stomach. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. Diverticulosis means outpouchings of the intestinal wall. Psychosis (psyche is the root word for “mind”) covers many varieties of mental disorders.