Medical Terminology for Respiratory Conditions, Diseases, and Pathology - dummies

Medical Terminology for Respiratory Conditions, Diseases, and Pathology

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

There are many conditions and diseases that afflict the respiratory system. To go along with these issues, there are specific medical terms that you will need to know. Check out the following to get going.

Common respiratory conditions

Of all the most common respiratory conditions, the bronchial tubes get the big daddy: asthma. Asthma is attacks of paroxysmal dyspnea (sudden onset of wheezing and difficulty breathing) with airway inflammation and wheezing due to contraction of the bronchi, leading to airway obstruction if severe enough. The condition affects millions of people of all ages.

Asthma comes from the Greek astma, meaning “to pant.”

The lungs have all sorts of wild and wacky conditions associated with them. Atelectasis, for example, is the imperfect expansion of air sacs of the lungs. Emphysema is the distention of the alveoli with swelling and inflammation of lung tissue.

Pneumonia is the acute inflammation and infection of the alveoli. A couple of different varieties exist: Lobar pneumonia involves distribution of infection in one or more lobes of a lung, whereas pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is an infectious disease caused by P. carinii, the infectious agent. It is fungal in origin and is common in AIDS patients.

Pneumonia can be distributed in different ways, for example, confining itself to only one lobe, as is often the case with a viral infection, versus presenting a “cotton-wool” appearance on x-ray, with scattered white spots throughout the lungs, as with PCP. It can be caused by many different infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, and what are known as atypical agents, such as Mycoplasma, a common cause of pneumonia in teenagers and young adults.

When you breathe, you don’t just breathe in air. Sometimes foreign particles sneak in. Dust is the most common culprit. Pneumoconiosis is an abnormal condition of dust in the lungs. Differing types of pneumoconiosis include the following:

  • Anthracosis: Coal dust (black lung disease)

  • Asbestosis: Asbestos particles in lungs

  • Silicosis: Silica dust or glass (grinder’s disease)

Speaking of foreign matter hanging out in the lungs, the pleura (that membrane that covers the lungs) can also be affected by foreign matter, namely fluid. Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura. Pleural effusion is the escape of fluid into the pleural cavity.

Examples of a pleural effusion include empyema and Hemothorax, which is blood in the pleural cavity typically caused by a trauma, and is not quite as common but obviously a serious problem — just ask anyone who works in the ER. Other greatest hits of pleural effusion include lung malignancy and congestive heart failure, due to the increased pressure of blood backing up in the pulmonary vessels.

But wait! There’s more fluid and pus! It can be a pusapalooza in those lungs, and can often develop into very serious conditions, like these three:

  • Pulmonary abscess: Localized area of pus formation in the lungs

  • Pulmonary edema: Swelling and fluid in the air sacs and bronchioles, caused by poor blood supply to the heart muscle

  • Pulmonary embolism: Floating clot or other material blocking the blood vessels of the lung

There is such a great chance for foreign particles, dust, or communicable disease, the lungs and its buddies are susceptible to a wide range of conditions. Here are some more examples:

  • Adenoiditis: Inflammation of the adenoids

  • Atelectasis: Incomplete expansion of the lungs

  • Bronchiectasis: Dilatation of the bronchi

  • Bronchitis: Inflammation of the bronchi

  • Laryngitis: Inflammation of the larynx

  • Laryngotracheobronchitis: Croup

  • Pneumothorax: Air between the lung and chest wall

  • Pulmonary neoplasm: A new growth in the lung, which can be malignant or benign depending on the composition

  • Rhinitis: Inflammation of mucous membranes of nose

  • Tonsillitis: Inflammation of the tonsils

  • Tracheitis: Inflammation of the trachea

Respiratory diseases and pathology

One of the most frightening respiratory diseases is tuberculosis, also known as TB. Because of its communicable nature, this infectious disease, which is caused by acid-fast bacilli spread by inhalation of infected droplets, always causes a commotion when reported to health officials.

So much so, in fact, that before antibiotics, hospitals built solely for the treatment of TB were quite common. TB is a bit more under control today and is treated with a specific antibiotic regime, usually over a long-term (6-month) period.

Diphtheria is another infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, affecting the throat. Influenza, that pesky flu, is a highly infectious respiratory disease that is viral in origin. Though for most people nowadays it involves some time off work and chicken soup, the flu can be deadly if not treated, or in high-risk groups like small children and the elderly. Legionnaires’ disease is a form of lobar pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia.

Tired yet? Hang in there. There are a few more respiratory diseases you should know. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is respiratory failure in an adult as a result of disease or injury.

  • Bronchogenic carcinoma is a cancerous tumor arising from the bronchus. This tumor can metastasize (spread) to brain, liver, and other organs.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to any persistent lung disease that obstructs the bronchial airflow. Examples include asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

  • Cor pulmonale is a serious cardiac disease associated with chronic lung disorders such as emphysema.

  • OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the pharynx collapses during sleep leading to absence of breathing.

  • Pulmonary edema means fluid accumulation in the alveoli and bronchioles.

  • Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot, fat clot, or air carried in blood circulation to pulmonary artery where it blocks the artery.

  • URI is upper respiratory tract infection of pharynx, larynx, and trachea. LRI (lower respiratory infection) usually refers to an infection of everything that’s left — bronchi and lungs. It’s hard to have a LRI without the URI, but you can have the URI by itself.