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The Merck Manual of Medical Information--Home Edition
Front Matter

Understanding Medical Terms

At first glance, medical terminology can seem like a foreign language. But often the key to understanding medical terms is focusing on their components (prefixes, roots, and suffixes). For example, spondylolysis is a combination of "spondylo," which means vertebra, and "lysis," which means dissolve, and so means dissolution of a vertebra.

The same components are used in many medical terms. "Spondylo" plus "itis," which means inflammation, forms spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae. The same prefix plus "malacia," which means soft, forms spondylomalacia, a softening of the vertebrae.

Knowing the meaning of a small number of components can help with interpretation of a large number of medical terms. The following list defines many commonly used medical prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

a(n) absence of   malac soft
acou, acu hear   mamm(o) breast
aden(o) gland   mast(o) breast
aer(o) air   megal(o) large
alg pain   melan(o) black
andr(o) man   mening(o) membranes
angi(o) vessel   my(o) muscle
ankyl(o) crooked, curved   myc(o) fungus
ante before   myel(o) marrow
anter(i) front, forward   nas(o) nose
anti against   necr(o) death
arteri(o) artery   nephr(o) kidney
arthr(o) joint   neur(o) nerve
articul joint   nutri nourish
ather(o) fatty   ocul(o) eye
audi(o) hearing   odyn(o) pain
aur(i) ear   oma tumor
aut(o) self   onc(o) tumor
bi, bis double, twice, two   oophor(o) ovaries
brachy short   ophthalm(o) eye
brady slow   opia vision
bucc(o) cheek   opsy examination
carcin(o) cancer   orchi(o) testes
cardi(o) heart   osis condition
cephal(o) head   osse(o) bone
cerebr(o) brain   oste(o) bone
cervic neck   ot(o) ear
chol(e) bile, or referring to gallbladder   path(o) disease
chondr(o) cartilage   ped(o) child
circum around, about   penia deficient, deficiency
contra against, counter   peps, pept digest
corpor body   peri around
cost(o) rib   phag(o) eat, destroy
crani(o) skull   pharmaco drug
cry(o) cold   pharyng(o) throat
cut skin   phleb(o) vein
cyan(o) blue   phob(ia) fear
cyst(o) bladder   plasty repair
cyt(o) cell   pleg(ia) paralysis
dactyl(o) finger or toe   pnea breathing
dent tooth   pneum(ato) breath, air
derm(ato) skin   pneumon(o) lung
dipl(o) double   pod(o) foot
dors back   poie make, produce
dys bad, faulty, abnormal   poly much, many
ectomy excision (removal by cutting)   post after
emia blood   poster(i) back, behind
encephal(o) brain   presby elder
end(o) inside   proct(o) anus
enter(o) intestine   pseud(o) false
epi outer, superficial, upon   psych(o) mind
erythr(o) red   pulmon(o) lung
eu normal   pyel(o) pelvis of kidney
extra outside   pyr(o) fever, fire
gastr(o) stomach   rachi(o) spine
gen become, originate   ren(o) kidneys
gloss(o) tongue   rhag break, burst
glyc(o) sweet, or referring to glucose   rhe flow
gram, graph write, record   rhin(o) nose
gyn woman   scler(o) hard
hem(ato) blood   scope instrument
hemi half   scopy examination
hepat(o) liver   somat(o) body
hist(o) tissue   spondyl(o) vertebra
hydr(o) water   steat(o) fat
hyper excessive, high   sten(o) narrow, compressed
hypo deficient, low   steth(o) chest
hyster(o) uterus   stom mouth, opening
iatr(o) doctor   supra above
infra beneath   tachy fast, quick
inter among, between   therap treatment
intra inside   therm(o) heat
itis inflammation   thorac(o) chest
lact(o) milk   thromb(o) clot, lump
lapar(o) flank, abdomen   tomy incision (operation by cutting)
latero side   tox(i) poison
leuk(o) white   uria urine
lingu(o) tongue   vas(o) vessel
lip(o) fat   ven(o) vein
lys(is) dissolve   vesic(o) bladder
mal bad, abnormal   xer(o) dry

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