Medical Terminology – Introduction

PACS Training - Medical Basics 101

Medical terminology is a specialized language used by health care practitioners to describe different aspects of medicine. These aspects include, but not limited to, anatomical structures, medical procedures, medical conditions, and treatments.

The system of medical terminology is important because it condenses a diagnosis, medical procedure, or treatment into a single word and makes communication between health care practitioners easy. 

A PACS administrator must understand the basics of medical terminology to effectively communicate with his or her clinical customers. Medical terminology is a core aspect of PACS training.

For example, what sounds more efficient in a conversation:

  • Doctor, the patient’s temperature is reaching below normal levels.
  • Doctor, the patient has Hypothermia.

Either way, the doctor will understand the situation, but medical terminology makes communication more efficient within the field of medicine. 

Now let us cover the basics of medical terminology. How do we break down a medical term?


There are three basic parts to medical terms:

  • Word Root: Usually the middle of the word. It is the central meaning of the word.
    • Therm = heat
    • Card = heart
    • Enceph = brain
  • Prefix: Comes at the beginning of the word. It usually modifies the meaning of the word root.
    • Hypo- = below normal
    • Macro- = large
    • Semi- = half
  • Suffix: Comes at the end of the word. It modifies the meaning by specifying who or what is interacting with the word root. It also alters what is happening to the word root.
    • -ia = condition
    • -itis = inflammation
    • -oma = mass, tumor
Word Structure

Medical terms are usually built using a word root + suffix, or a prefix + word root + suffix. 

There are also exceptions to this rule. Apnea is a medical term built with only a prefix + suffix.

  • A- = without
  • -pnea = breathing

You will see exceptions while studying medical terminology and it is important to keep this in mind as you learn.

Changing the prefix and suffix of a word root can alter the meaning of the term completely. Let us see some terms with the same word root but have different definitions. 

  • Cardiomegaly = Abnormal Enlargement of the Heart
    • Cardio- = Heart 
    • Mega = Large or great
  • Myocarditis = Inflammation of the Muscle layer of the Heart
    • Myo = Muscle
    • Card- = Heart
    • -itis = Inflammation

You can see how the rearrangements of the Prefix and Suffix can change the definition of the word completely. This versatility in medical terminology is one of the reasons why it creates efficient communication in the medical field. 

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