Medical Terminology – Suffixes

PACS Training - Medical Basics 101

A suffix is the ending of a term that usually modifies the meaning of the word root depending on who or what is interacting with it or what is happening to it. Just like prefixes, the definition of a suffix does not change from word to word. 

  • Appendicitis = Inflammation of the Appendix
  • Dermatitis = Inflammation of the Skin

The suffix, -itis, had the same meaning in both medical terms, but the definition of the whole term changed because of the word root. 

Here’s another example of how this works. Think about all of the medical specialties out there in terms of specialty physicians. 

  • Pulmonologists
  • Rheumatologists
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Neurologist

Do you see a common trend in these terms? -logist is the suffix for a “specialist in the study of…” 

Another role of a suffix is to make a word into a noun or an adjective. Here are some examples: 

Suffixes that make a word a Noun:

-a(noun form)Vertebra = The vertebral column
-e(noun form)Dermatome = An area of skin supplied by nerves from a specific spinal root
-um(noun form)Cranium = The skull
-us(noun form)Coccus = Spherical bacterium

Suffixes that make a word an Adjective:

-acPertaining toCardiac = Pertaining to the Heart
-arPertaining toVestibular = Pertaining to the Vestibule
-aryPertaining to; Related toPulmonary = Pertaining to the Lungs
-alPertaining toNeural = Pertaining to the Nerves
-ealPertaining toEsophageal = Pertaining to the Esophagus
-icPertaining toChronic = Pertaining to a long time
-ticPertaining toAcoustic = Pertaining to Sound or Hearing
-icalPertaining toNeurological = Pertaining to the Study of Nerves
-oryPertaining to; Characterized byRespiratory = Pertaining to Breathing
-ousPertaining toSerous = Pertaining to Serum

Suffixes usually indicate, but are not limited to, medical specialties, types of surgeries, and conditions. 

-ianSpecialist in a field of studyPediatrician = Specialist in Pediatric Medicine
-iatryMedical Treatment; Medical professionPodiatry = Field of medicine specializing in the study and treatment of the feet
-logyThe study ofNeurology = The study of the nervous system
-logistSpecialist in the study ofNeurologist = Specialist in the study of the nervous system
-ectomyTo cut out; To removeTonsillectomy = Surgical removal of the tonsils
-otomyTo cut intoTracheotomy = to surgically cut into the trachea
-gramRecord; PictureElectrocardiogram = Record of the electrical activity of the heart
-lysisDestruction; DetachmentHemolysis = Destruction of red blood cells
-opsyProcess of viewingBiopsy = Process of viewing a piece of living tissue 
-scopyProcess of viewing with a scopeMicroscopy = Process of viewing with a microscope
-algiaPainMyalgia = Pain in the muscles
-blastImmature cells; Precursor cells; Stem cellsLymphoblast = Immature Lymphocytes
-cyteCellErythrocyte = Red blood cell
-emiaBlood conditionGlycemia = Presence of sugar/glucose in the blood
-genesisFormation; GeneratingGlycogenesis = Formation of Glycogen
-omaTumorAdenoma = Tumor in glandular tissue
-osisCondition ofTuberculosis = Condition caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
-plegiaParalysisHemiplegia = Paralysis of half of the body
-rrheaFlow; DischargeRhinorrhea = Flow/discharge from the nose

Most likely, you have seen these suffixes during science courses, healthcare related experience, or in everyday language. Now that you’re familiar with prefixes and suffixes, let’s get into the medical terms of specific systems of the human body in these upcoming modules. 

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